INDIANA - Sen. Evan Bayh, a leading moderate Democrat from Indiana who was once thought to be a rising national political star, won’t run for a third term, a decision which imperils his party’s hold on the seat.
Bayh’s shock decision – to be announced Monday afternoon in Indianapolis – comes as he geared up for what may have been his most difficult campaign in an otherwise gilded political life.
The son of a senator, Bayh never lost a race over a career in which he was elected as secretary of state at 30 and served as governor and senator for two terms each.
Until Monday morning, Bayh gave no hint that he was thinking about giving up his Senate seat. Just the opposite: he had over $12 million on hand, had taken on a new role as the de facto head of a Senate moderate rump group and Democratic operatives in Washington and Indiana had already launched a withering series of attacks against former Sen. Dan Coats, whose seat Bayh took when the Republican retired in 1998 and who had begun exploring taking on the incumbent earlier this month.
After briefly running for president in 2008 and being considered but passed over for vice-president in three consecutive elections, it seemed that Bayh had settled into his role as a senator and outspoken voice for his party to hew toward the political center.
Democratic officials, who were caught surprise by the news, said it was a last-minute, personal decision; Bayh was polling as recently as last week – and enjoying a sizable lead – and had already gathered the petitions necessary to be on the ballot this fall.
"He was giving every sign of running again," said a Democratic leadership aide.
Senate Democratic leaders, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) were not informed of Bayh's decision until Monday morning, according to several Democratic insiders. Bayh was even scheduled to appear on a CNN Sunday show, but canceled his appearance, said Democratic sources.
Attention immediately turned to a pair of moderate House Democrats, Baron Hill and Brad Ellsworth, as potential prospects to fill the seat.
Aside from Coats, the favored candidate of the national GOP, former Rep. John Hostettler and a handful of lesser-known candidates were already vying for the Republican nomination.
Bayh, 54, said in a statement announcing his decision that his retirement “was not motivated by political concern.”
“Even in the current challenging environment, I am confident in my prospects for re-election,” he said.
Instead, Bayh continued, he was weary of the partisan sniping that has become so common in the capital, citing recent failures in the Senate to pass a deficit commission and jobs legislation.
“All of this and much more has led me to believe that there are better ways to serve my fellow citizens, my beloved state4 and our nation than continued service in Congress,” he said.
Surely not far from Bayh’s mind, however, was the fate of his father, Birch Bayh. Like his son, Birch Bayh was widely viewed as a comer in the 7os-era Democratic Party – somebody who had the potential to steer the often-fracitous party to the center.
But after running an unsuccessful bid for his party’s presidential nomination in 1976, Bayh was upset in the Reagan landslide year of 1980 by a young Republican named Dan Quayle.