“I share this commitment, and agree with him that the stakes have never been higher. Baron and I have spoken and we both believe that we must send leaders to Washington who will put Hoosiers’ interests ahead of any one political party,” Bayh said in a statement.
Other Democrats made clear that Bayh is in the race. As someone familiar with Indiana Democratic politics put it, “Bayh is running.”
The move is a major boost for Democrats, whose bid to take back the Senate was shaken last month when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) reversed course and decided to run for re-election and gave the GOP its strongest chance of holding that seat.
The decision is also a major victory for Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who will become Democratic leader next year and desperately wants “majority” as the first word in his official title. While Bayh was something of a loner in his 12 years in the Senate, he was always friendly with Schumer.
Elected to the Senate together in the 1998 midterms, Bayh and Schumer have stayed close. A day after Bayh’s wife, Susan, underwent surgery for a benign brain tumor last July, Schumer cut off an interview with The Washington Post to take a call from the ex-senator to check on her recovery.
Democrats need to gain four seats and have Hillary Clinton win the presidency to claim the majority, or five seats if their party loses the White House. Their candidates appear to have a slight edge over Republican incumbents in Illinois and Wisconsin, Sens. Mark Kirk and Ron Johnson, respectively, and if Bayh can claim Indiana, Democrats would need to win just one or two more of the next handful of Republican seats that are considered very competitive this fall.
Upon the news of Bayh’s entering the race, independent political handicappers at the Cook Political Report immediately moved the race from safely in GOP hands into its “tossup” category.
However, Bayh’s post-Senate career, and his words disparaging the institution as he left six years ago, provide some ammunition for the Republican nominee, Rep. Todd Young, against the former senator.
Bayh, now 60, famously walked away from the Senate in 2010 excoriating it as a place of “strident partisanship, unyielding ideology [and] a corrosive system of campaign financing,” and after pledging to spend his last months in office working for good government reforms, Bayh left the Senate and, within three months, had become part of the influence-peddling industry that he had often derided while in office.
He signed up with McGuire Woods, a global law firm, to advise the firm’s clients on dealings with Congress and the administration, and he also signed on as an adviser to Apollo Global Management, a Manhattan-based private equity firm.
Advisers to Senate Republicans were quick to mock Bayh as a wealthy Washington insider — in a time when an anti-establishment mood has taken hold in both political parties. In the spring of 2015 Bayh purchased his second home in Washington, a $2.9 million Georgetown six-bedroom home that he described as his way of “downsizing”.
Bayh will enter the race as a moderate Democrat fitting his state’s slightly conservative lean. In 2008, President Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1964. But Bayh would be slightly out of place in a caucus that is decidedly more liberal than it was just six years ago when he retired. Had he remained in the Senate, Bayh would be the top Democrat on the Banking Committee, a Wall Street friendly face in stark contrast to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the populist who is now ranking member of the panel.
Democrats believe Bayh enters the race as a favorite over Young. He served two terms as governor before being elected to the Senate, and his father, Birch Bayh, served three terms in the Senate and ran unsuccessfully for president in 1976. So Bayh enters the race with very high name recognition and he still has $9.3 million leftover in campaign funds from his previous Senate races, while Young has just $1.2 million in his account after a hard-fought win in a contested Republican primary.
Birch Bayh lost his seat in 1980 to Dan Quayle, whose elevation to vice president in the 1988 election set in motion what has been nearly two decades of shadow boxing between Coats and Bayh in this Senate seat.
Coats was appointed to succeed Quayle just as Evan Bayh was being sworn in to his first term as governor. When Coats announced he would retire in 1998 rather than run for reelection, Bayh easily won the race to succeed him. Within days of one another in 2010, Coats entered the Senate race and Bayh announced he would instead retire.
In early 2015 Coats announced he would not seek reelection amid some of his own frustration with the dysfunction of Congress.
Democrats immediately turned to Bayh as their first choice, but he declined, repeatedly until this week.