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Bye Bye Bayh
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 29, 2001

Question: How do you size up Sen. Evan Bayh’s (D-Ind.) chances for making the Democratic ticket in 2004, now that he's opted out of the presidential race?
– Brian A. Howey, Indianapolis, Ind.

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Bayh was on the V.P. "short list" in 2000. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: After Bayh’s announcement there was speculation that he is on the short list for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination. While such conjecture three years in advance is especially risky – witness the Joe Lieberman surprise last year – the idea of Bayh for V..P. might be worth exploring.

His strengths are obvious. Photogenic and popular, he has carried Indiana four times: once as secretary of state, twice as governor, and once, in 1998, for the Senate. He won his first gubernatorial race in 1988 despite the presence of Hoosier Dan Quayle on the GOP national ticket, as well as popular Republican Sen. Dick Lugar, who swept to a landslide third-term victory. Supporters say Bayh on the ticket could put the state in Democratic hands for the first time since Lyndon Johnson carried it in 1964.

But what makes him so popular at home is what some in the party find troubling. He has gone out of his way in Washington to chart a more moderate and cautious course than some of the party's true believers would like.

His vote against so-called "partial birth abortion" has rankled some of the more vocal abortion-rights advocates, an issue that is thought to be one of the reasons he didn’t get the call from Al Gore to join him in 2000. And there are those who question his talents at oratory; his keynote address at the 1996 Democratic convention left much to be desired.

His real problem may be more simple. If Al Gore gets the nomination again, one could argue (as many did in 2000) that a Gore-Bayh ticket would not offer much diversity, given the fact that both came out of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, both are charismatically challenged, and both grew up in Washington as sons of senators, with both even going to the same private school. And if the party nominated a sitting senator in 2004 – such as John Edwards (D-N.C.) or Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), for example – it is unlikely that they would choose a fellow senator to fill the ticket. (Of course, that leads to another question. The Senate terms of Edwards and Daschle, as well as Bayh, expire in 2004, and they would have to give up their seats to run for president. So a decision will have to made there as well. And the same holds true for Arizona Republican John McCain.)

If Bayh wants to stay out of the 2004 presidential race because of family concerns, as he says – he has twin 5-year old boys – he still has plenty of time to run. At 45, he is young enough to wait it out until 2008 or beyond to make a serious effort. And assuming he keeps winning in Indiana, the guess is that he eventually makes a bid for the White House.

Bayh the way, questioner Brian Howey is the editor of the widely respected "Howey Political Report," an excellent newsletter on Indiana politics. Check out his site at howeypolitics.com.

Question: I saw the item that Sen. Bayh, a previous two-term governor, is not going to run for president in 2004. Has there ever been a president who previously served as both governor and senator?
– Frank Ferrari, La Jolla, Calif.

Answer: Yes, but you have to go back a bit to find one. The last was Andrew Johnson, the 17th president, who was elected governor of Tennessee for two terms beginning in 1853 and went to the Senate (selected by state lawmakers) in 1857, before succeeding to the presidency following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. The others were Virginia’s John Tyler (10th president), who was elected governor in 1825 and senator in 1826; New York’s Martin Van Buren (8th president), elected to the Senate in 1820 and as governor in 1828; and Virginia’s James Monroe (5th president), elected senator in 1790 and governor in 1799. Johnson and Tyler also served in the House.

Question: Is Evan Bayh’s father, former Senator Birch Bayh, still active in politics at any level?
– Robert Brewer, Chicago, Ill.

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Like his son, Sen. Birch Bayh was a Democratic vice-presidential hopeful. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: Not really. Birch Bayh, whose 18-year career in the Senate ended at the hands of Dan Quayle in 1980, stayed in Washington after his defeat. He is 73 years old and a partner at the D.C. law firm of Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly. His brand of politics was well to the left of his son’s – Birch Bayh was a devout liberal during his Senate career and in his bid for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination. I don’t believe he is politically active other than supporting his son’s career, of which he is enthusiastic.

Question: As the pundits are already talking about which Democrats will run for president in 2004, the list seems to be exclusively consisting of sitting U.S. senators (Al Gore excepted). Calif. Gov. Gray Davis, who admittedly needs to get through his state's energy crisis, is routinely dismissed. Yet, over the past 75 years -- correct me if I am wrong -- a sitting senator has earned the two major parties' presidential nomination only four times. For the Democrats, it was John Kennedy in 1960 and George McGovern in 1972. For the GOP, it was Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Bob Dole in 1996. Only Kennedy, of course, got elected, while the other three suffered defeats of landslide proportions. Why do sitting members of Congress do so poorly in their bids for the nomination and the election?
– Scott Farris, Sacramento, Calif.

Answer: It’s possible that Governor Davis may have too many obstacles for him to win the nomination in 2004, especially if his state’s energy crisis continues and he cannot pass the blame off to the Bush administration (though not for lack of trying). A lot depends on how he does in his bid for re-election next year. And even though he won a landslide victory in ’98, there may still be some lingering bitterness in the party over the negative tactics he used against Dianne Feinstein (in which he compared her to Leona Helmsley) when they ran against each other in the 1992 Democratic Senate primary.

But your point is exactly right. When looking at the potential 2004 Democratic field, everyone seems to be focused on the Senate. The names most often mentioned include Sens. John Edwards (N.C.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), Tom Daschle (S.D.), John Kerry (Mass.) and Joe Biden (Del.); even Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) gets a mention now and then.

As for why sitting members of Congress do so poorly in their bids for the nomination, it may be the difficulty of holding office and running for president. The same holds true for sitting governors: Until Bill Clinton and George W. Bush went directly from incumbent governors to president, the last sitting governor who made it to the White House was Franklin Roosevelt (D-N.Y.) in 1932. A seat in the House is an even more difficult launch pad for aspiring presidents. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), John Kasich (R-Ohio) and John Anderson (R-Ill.) all made attempts since 1980, none successful. Gephardt may be tempted to run again, but the only sitting member of the House to go directly to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was James Garfield in 1880.

In the history of the Senate, only two incumbents have ever been elected president: Kennedy in ’60 and Warren Harding (R) in 1920. Your list of sitting senators nominated for the presidency is actually off by one – Bob Dole had resigned his Senate seat by the time he was nominated by the GOP in 1996. But your larger point should not be ignored: while no sitting senator has been elected to the presidency since JFK, the record of incumbent senators seeking the nomination since then is not impressive.

Here’s a list of the sitting senators who made somewhat of a serious effort to get their parties’ presidential nomination since then (asterisk signifies nominee). As previously stated, Bob Dole (’96) is on this list, but he was no longer a member of the Senate when he won the GOP nomination that year:

1964: Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.)*

1968: Robert Kennedy (D-N.Y.), Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.), George McGovern (D-S.D.)

1972: George McGovern (D-S.D.)*, Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.), Ed Muskie (D-Maine), Henry Jackson (D-Wash.)

1976: Henry Jackson (D-Wash.), Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), Frank Church (D-Idaho), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas)

1980: Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), Bob Dole (R-Kans.)

1984: Gary Hart (D-Colo.), John Glenn (D-Ohio), Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.)

1988: Bob Dole (R-Kans.), Al Gore (D-Tenn.), Paul Simon (D-Ill.)

1992: Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

1996: Bob Dole (R-Kans.), Phil Gramm (R-Texas), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.)

2000: John McCain (R-Ariz.), Bob Smith (R.I-N.H.)

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.


© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin


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