On Tuesday, my colleague at PowerPost, James Hohmann, opened his daily morning newsletter, The Daily 202, with this blistering critique of former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, who formally announced yesterday he is running for his old Senate seat:
One of the many reasons that so many of his Democratic colleagues did not like Evan Bayh during his tenure in the Senate was his excessive caution. The hyper-ambitious, always-privileged and ever-calculating son of a senator long dreamed of becoming president, and he represented a conservative-leaning state. So he was perennially nervous about taking tough votes or courageous stands. He often seemed to waffle and have his finger in the wind.
I’d agree Bayh has always been cautious, and he had his sights set on the White House for years. But if ambition were disqualifying for those seeking high office, we wouldn’t have any candidates or elected officials, and I don’t regard caution as a terribly bad trait, especially considering some of the bone-headed decisions elected officials make.
But Bayh’s decision certainly caught me off-guard, as did Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s decision to jump into the Florida Senate race after earlier announcing he would not seek re-election.
And the Indiana Democrat’s announcement has made me re-consider my earlier view that Bayh didn’t retire in 2010 because he was afraid of losing to Republican challenger Dan Coats, himself a former senator who didn’t run for re-election because he was afraid he would lose to Bayh.
Now, that conclusion is inescapable.
Like everyone else, I had heard rumors over the past few months that Indiana and national Democrats were again urging Bayh to run for the Senate. So I checked with him a couple of times about his level of interest – or lack of interest – in possibly running for his old Indiana seat.
Given those conversations, I was pretty sure I knew how he felt and what he thought about serving in the Senate again. He hated the idea. Unequivocally. Emphatically. No ifs ands or buts.
I got the clear impression he had no interest returning to an institution crippled by political gridlock and no interest in returning to the partisan political wars, which have become more bitter and nasty over the past two decades. (Shades of Rubio again.)
But now, at the last minute, Evan Bayh suddenly has decided the Senate needs him, or the country can’t live without him. So, former Rep. Baron Hill, and old Bayh ally, drops his Senate bid — which had been underwhelming so far – to allow the Indiana Democratic Party to fill the vacancy with Bayh. (Shades of Rubio, again, except Rubio made his decision before the Florida primary and faces a wealthy primary opponent.)
What did Bayh say to explain his shift?
“With the challenges facing Indiana and our country, I can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch as partisan bickering grinds Washington to a halt. Hoosier families deserve more and I’ve decided to run to take their cause to the U.S. Senate,” said the 60-year old St Albans-educated former governor and senator in a press release formally announcing his decision.
Ahh. I see. Not really.
So, Bayh left the Senate because of the partisanship, bickering and gridlock. And now, he wants his old Senate seat back because of – you guessed it – the partisanship, bickering and gridlock. Sure, I believe that. And I believe in the tooth fairy too.
Of course, Bayh’s decision to run surely was made easier by the fact that he has over $9 million in his campaign account and will be able to run less than a four-month race. Even if he doesn’t like to idea of having to spend a few months campaigning back in Indiana, it won’t be much of a burden.
But while Bayh starts at least even in the race (or probably with a slight advantage), don’t put the Hoosier State in the Democratic column quite yet.
Bayh, who was first elected Indiana secretary of state 30 years ago, has not had a competitive race since his 1988 gubernatorial contest, when he defeated John Mutz, the state’s two-term lieutenant governor, 53 percent to 47 percent.
Bayh was re-elected governor by 25 points in 1992, elected to the Senate by 29 points in 1998 and re-elected to the Senate by 24 points in 2004. They were all laughers that were never competitive – unlike this year’s contest.
But Bayh’s opponent this time is Todd Young, a former Marine who graduated from the United States Naval Academy, and has an MBA from the University of Chicago and a law degree from the University of Indiana.
He was elected to Congress three times (the first in 2010), and won this year’s GOP Senate nomination by handily defeating fellow congressman Marlin Stutzman, a tea party favorite, on May 3rd.
Young raised $3.7 million through the middle of April according to his pre-primary FEC report, and he looked to be the clear favorite for November. While Bayh’s entry into the race changes things, Young won’t roll over against Bayh, and national Republican strategists have more ammunition against Bayh than they did during his past races.
His residence will be an issue when Republicans note his various homes and argue his connection to Indiana these days is, well, thin at best. And they will surely paint the race as a choice between tomorrow and yesterday. Finally, they are almost certain to stress the larger choice involved, linking Bayh to Clinton, Obama and Democratic control of the Senate in 2016.
On one hand, the Senate could use a few more pragmatists (like Bayh and Rubio) who are willing to work across the aisle and believe a legislator’s job is to legislate. On the other hand, flip-flopping the way Bayh and Rubio have done only encourages cynicism about politicians and their personal ambitions.
For Evan Bayh, his decision to run this year, like his 2010 decision, is not exactly a profile in courage.