Generally speaking, there were three main reasons former Democratic senator and governor of Indiana Evan Bayh got recruited and then decided to run for Senate again after abruptly leaving it six year ago:
- The map looked promising for Democrats to take back control of the Senate, and Bayh could play a part in that by making Indiana's open seat competitive.
- Money. Bayh had some $10 million in the bank left over from his 2010 non-campaign.
- Name recognition and likability. Even though he had been out of office for six years, Bayh is well-known in the state after serving as either governor or senator for more than two decades.
The first two rationales haven't changed much: Democrats could take back the Senate, and Indiana is a competitive Senate race. (Bayh once led by double digits, and he has spent millions on the campaign. He now only leads by an average of 3½ points.)
But a drip drip of reports about Bayh's lobbying career after leaving the Senate and his ties to Washington threatens to undermine the third rationale: That he's in politics to help Indianians.
To lean on the three-legged stool metaphor: It's tough for a Democrat to stand up a last-minute statewide campaign in a red-leaning state without all three legs: momentum, money and credibility.
The latest headline calling into question Bayh's commitment to Indiana voters is a doozy. The Associated Press reported Friday that Bayh didn't stay overnight in his Indiana condo once in 2010, his last year in the Senate. Not once.
When he did go to Indiana as a senator that year, he spent taxpayer money, campaign funds or let other people foot the bill for him to stay in hotels — “on the relatively rare occasions he returned from Washington, D.C.," writes AP's Brian Slodysko, who obtained Bayh's 2010 travel schedule from a source. The AP reports Bayh's campaign didn't dispute the record's authenticity, but Bayh's campaign put out a statement that called the "alleged schedule" "incomplete, riddled with errors" and "missing more than 40 percent of the votes Evan took in 2012."
Meanwhile, every indication is that Bayh was busy his last year in office searching for a lucrative private sector job on the East Coast. The AP also reported he spent $3,000 in taxpayer money on what appeared to be a job-hunting trip to New York. (He eventually became a partner in Virginia-based lobbying firm McGuire Woods.)
The AP expanded on Bayh's job search in another scoop earlier this month: His 2010 schedule shows Bayh spent a substantial amount of time his last year in office looking for a private-sector job. Since the story got buried in a weekend of Donald Trump 2005 tape news, here's the pertinent paragraph from it:
The Democrat had more than four dozen meetings and phone calls with headhunters and future corporate employers over the months, beginning days after announcing his surprise retirement from the Senate on Feb. 15, 2010, through December of that year as his term came to an end.
Reports of Bayh's lobbying search and time spent in Indiana isn't coming out of a vacuum — nor is becoming a lobbyist after leaving public office particularly unusual in Washington.
When Bayh launched his 2016 Senate campaign at the last minute in July — suddenly thrusting Indiana's open Senate seat into the Democrats' playbook — Republicans promised to hit him on stuff like this:
When Bayh quit Senate, he said he'd go home to teach college in IN. Instead, he joined lobbying firm McGuire Woods and giant PE firm Apollo.
— Alec MacGillis (@AlecMacGillis) July 11, 2016
A series of independent news reports have since fed directly into their narrative. Politico reported in August that Bayh owns much more property outside Indiana than in it: two $2 million homes in Washington and a condo in Florida vs. a one-bedroom condo in Indianapolis listed at $59,000.
And CNN reported that election officials in Indianapolis listed Bayh as an “inactive” voter because they couldn't confirm he lives there.
In September, Politico fact-checked that Bayh never registered as a lobbyist after leaving the Senate, but he was basically a lobbyist for all intents and purposes.
It's hard not to read all these reports and come away with the perception that Bayh spent his last year in office looking out for primarily himself.
That's pretty much the exact opposite messaging you want to give off when you're asking voters to send you back to Washington to work for you. It's especially problematic for Bayh, who left the Senate in 2010 with this memorable quote: “There are better ways to serve my fellow citizens. I love working for the people of Indiana. I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress.”
Bayh's defenders say this is much ado about nothing; where his property is or how much time he spent in the state six years ago is exactly the kind of Washington-insider story that readers and voters in Indiana don't much care about.
Bayh's reputation in Indiana precedes the few years he worked as a lobbyist, his supporters say. Bayh is the first governor in more than a century in Indiana to have children while in office. By the end of his second term as governor, Bayh had an approval rating nearing 80 percent.
Plus, Indiana has had its share of Washington-lobbyists-turned-politicians. Sen. Daniel Coats (R), who is retiring, was a former high-powered lobbyist when he decided to run for Senate again. Oh, and Coats had to register to vote in Indiana when he announced his candidacy.
Maybe they're right; it's possible that in the eyes of Indiana voters, this is just Washington mudslinging manifesting itself in Bayh's Senate race.
But as I wrote back in August when we first learned Bayh was listed as an “inactive voter” in his home state: “For any kind of narrative to stick in a campaign, it has to reach a certain level of saturation.”
This is an unscientific observation, but it certainly feels like we've reached that level of saturation. (Democrats pointed out after publication of this story that a WISH-TV/Ball State poll found 71 percent of Indiana voters said questions of Bayh's residency did not affect their decision."
And, to state the obvious 18 days out from Election Day: Being on the defense about his intentions as a politician is not where Bayh's campaign expected to be when it got into this a few months ago.
This post has been updated with a poll showing 71 percent of Indiana voters said Bayh's residency wasn't a problem, and with Bayh's campaign statement disputing the AP's schedule.