Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a charismatic midwestern moderate regularly mentioned as a leading prospect for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, took himself out of the running last week, saying he wanted to spend as much time as possible with his twin 5-year-old sons.

"To run for president means I would abandon my kids for the next 3 1/2 years," Bayh told the Indianapolis Star before announcing his decision at a fatherhood event on Friday.

Bayh, 45, took over as chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council in February, an influential post held in recent years by then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), last year's Democratic vice presidential nominee.

After serving two terms as governor, Bayh easily won an open Senate seat in 1998, capturing 64 percent of the vote in a state that last elected a Democratic senator in 1974, when Bayh's popular father, Birch Bayh, won a third term.

Bayh floated to the top of Al Gore's short list of potential running mates last year, and political analysts said last week that the senator will likely find himself leading the "veepstakes" once again in 2004. Bayh said his decision had nothing to do with political positioning.

Bayh's exit leaves Lieberman as perhaps the most obvious DLC-style candidate for 2004. But Lieberman has said he won't run if Gore decides to try again. DLC Executive Director Al From said Friday that in addition to Lieberman, he expects several other potential Democratic candidates will run as centrists. They include Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), John F. Kerry (Mass.) and John Edwards (N.C.).

And what of Bayh for vice president in 2004? "It's the easiest way to be on the national scene without spending two years in the hinterlands" campaigning for the top job, From said. He noted that Bayh would be a "logical" choice for whoever gets the Democratic nod.

Other Democrats often mentioned for 2004 include Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) and Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes.

Narrowing the Gap in N.J. Should former representative Bob Franks be worried about his gubernatorial chances?

Conservatives in New Jersey and Washington think he should, pointing to internal poll numbers purportedly showing Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler narrowing the gap with Franks in the race for the New Jersey GOP gubernatorial nomination. The primary is a week from Tuesday.

Schundler, an ideological conservative, released poll numbers last week showing him five points behind Franks, a moderate favored by the New Jersey Republican establishment. The poll showed Franks leading 36 percent to 31 percent, down from 48 percent to 22 percent in early April.

Rutgers University professor Cliff Zukin, who regularly polls New Jersey voters, said it is all but useless to try to take the pulse of a GOP primary electorate expected to number in the hundreds of thousands. "It's like finding needles in haystacks," Zukin said. "It's an under-the-radar campaign, and no one knows what's going to happen."

Zukin noted that New Jersey Republican leaders, many of whom consider Franks the stronger candidate to take on likely Democratic nominee James McGreevey, are getting nervous -- a clear sign Schundler could be on the move. Charlie Smith, campaign manager for Franks, acknowledged as much. "Clearly, this is going to be a close race," he said.

But Schundler could face a big problem. A campaign finance commission is weighing a complaint that ads run last fall by a nonprofit association controlled by Schundler should be considered campaign ads and, thus, count against the $5.9 million spending limit for the primary. If the commission agrees, it could immediately sap Schundler's treasury in the crucial days leading up to the primary. Of course, Schundler may have spent all his money on ads and direct mail by the time any decision is made, rendering the decision politically irrelevant.