Evan Bayh's reasons why
By Ben Pershing
Washington and Indiana politics were shaken Monday by the surprising announcement from Evan Bayh that he won't run for reelection. So why did Bayh do it? Let's examine the three most prominent theories:
1) He Was Tired of the Partisanship. This is the prevailing narrative, unsurprising given that the national media has been writing stories on bipartisanship in Washington and the lack thereof for weeks. "Two-term Sen. Evan Bayh says ever-shriller partisanship and the frustrations of gridlock made it time for him to leave Congress," the Associated Press ledes, adding: "Republicans aren't buying it, saying he and fellow Democrats sense that voters will be after their heads this fall." The New York Times says Bayh "was among the most prominent of moderate Democrats in Congress, but has been increasingly isolated over the past year as he has warned Democratic Congressional leaders that the push for big-ticket and expensive legislation was scaring off independent voters." Jill Lawrence thinks "the fact is that centrists and pragmatists, the people in both parties who normally serve as bridge-builders and consensus-builders, have no function in these days of lockstep discipline (attempted among Democrats, usually successful on the GOP side)."
2) He Didn't Like the Senate Anyway. Bayh himself said Monday, "I do not love Congress," and those who followed his career knew that already. Politico says Bayh's decision "marks not only an exit from a Senate he's never much loved but also the end of a once-promising national political career that never quite lived up to the hype. ... From his election in 1998 ... it seemed his chief political interest was in how quickly he could get out of the Senate." The Washington Post writes: "Although Bayh pointed to the lack of bipartisan spirit as his main reason, those who know him say that he never seemed at ease in the Senate and that, with his aspirations for higher office disappointed, the price of public office may have been too high. ... Bayh rarely asserted himself on controversial issues ... and he often frustrated his Democratic colleagues by remaining on the periphery during major debates -- including the health-care reform effort that consumed most of last year." Steve Kornacki says "good riddance" to Bayh and his belief that "you can dream big dreams if you're a Democrat from Indiana -- you just can't be proud to be a Democrat. And that has been the defining principle (to the extent there's been one) in Evan Bayh's quarter-century political career."
3) He's Planning Something Else. "I'm an executive at heart," Bayh said Monday. Barring a surprise run for county supervisor or dog-catcher, his electoral future holds two potential destinations -- the statehouse or the White House. Larry Sabato Tweets that Bayh "might have been hinting at POTUS run in '16, not just an IN GOV bid in '12," Huffington Post notes. "Even as Bayh was announcing his plans not to run for re-election this year, questions and speculation came fast and furious. Is he running for governor in 2012? Is he planning a rebellious bid for president? What is his angle?" Matthew Tully writes, but concludes that "in a rational world, the idea of a middle-aged man tiring of the political system and deciding to move on should make perfect sense." Chuck Lane posits that Bayh's exit leaves him "perfectly positioned to mount a centrist primary challenge to Obama in 2012, depending on circumstances." (Challenge a sitting president in the Democratic primary -- from the middle? Really?) Allahpundit asks, "if he wants to be president, why not suck it up for another six years? He's already been governor so there's nothing left for him to run for; it's possible that he thinks quitting now will set him up as a Beltway 'outsider' for 2016, but it's going to so lower his profile that people may not remember who he is by then." Gawker doesn't think much of the Bayh-for-president theory.
Of course, Republicans' preferred theory is that Bayh is quitting because he feared he would lose in November. At this point, most Democrats are already beyond caring why Bayh made his decision, and are more worried about holding on to the Senate. USA Today reports Bayh "boosted Republican hopes of major gains this election year when he abruptly announced Monday that he will retire. ... Bayh, 54, became the latest Democratic casualty in a year when the party has been pummeled over the economy and Obama's plans to reshape the nation's health care system." The Fix says "the national implications of Bayh's retirement are considerable. Political handicapper Charlie Cook now carries 10 Democratic-held seats in his most competitive categories, meaning that if Republicans run the table and don't lose any of their own vulnerable seats they could take back the Senate. With so little room for error, however, it's still a long shot for Republicans to take over the upper chamber." The Indianapolis Star writes: "With Bayh's exit, Cook switched to 'lean Republican.' He said he probably should make it stronger for the GOP. 'I think we are being very cautious,' Cook said, 'because frankly, Republicans would have to screw this up pretty badly to not win this seat.'"
"Party leaders said privately that Mr. Bayh's decision caught them off guard," the Wall Street Journal reports, a detail echoed in other stories. Roll Call says it wasn't a complete surprise: "[An] aide said Democratic leaders have spent the past year trying to convince Bayh to run for re-election. A second senior aide suggested that the majority's leadership has been anticipating the possibility of Bayh's retirement, which is why the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has worked diligently over the past few weeks to tar former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who is running for his old seat." For his part, MIchael Steele thinks Bayh is "running for the hills" because he "sold out" his constituents.
Ezra Klein writes that because Bayh dropped out so late, "the timing suggests he also doesn't want the Democrats to hold his seat anymore." Rishawn Biddle argues "it was precisely this well-practiced fence-straddling between conservatism and liberalism that led to Bayh's downfall. The anger and fatigue among Hoosier voters over the current recession -- combined with President Obama's unpopularity -- are hurting all Democrats, but Bayh was hurt even worse by the perception among both conservatives and liberals that he stood for his own political ambitions (and occasionally, his wife's business interests) than for any consistent ideology."
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