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Democrats' Indiana problem

Rep. Brad Ellsworth's Senate bid could trigger a domino effect in Indiana politics. AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's surprise retirement earlier this week appears set to create a domino effect in the state's Democratic politics that is exposing age-old tensions between House and Senate party officials.

Rep. Brad Ellsworth looks like the frontrunner to step into the void created by Bayh on the ballot and, according to the Howey Political Report, an Indiana-based newsletter, Ellsworth could announce his candidacy as soon as today. (The Fix hears an announcement today is unlikely but that Ellsworth does look like the pick.)

Ellsworth's departure from the 8th district would create a top-tier pickup opportunity for House Republicans and further complicate Democrats' majority math in the chamber. And that prospects has some in the House Democratic world fighting mad.

"Democrats are going to lose Bayh's Senate seat and will probably lose the seat of the House member that runs for it," said a senior House Democratic aide granted anonymity to speak candidly. "The focus on what's best for the Senate is making Members ask whether the White House cares about a Democratic majority in the House."

Eric Schultz, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, chose to direct his fire toward Republicans when asked about the tensions the Ellsworth pick might cause. "We will have a strong Democratic candidate who will face a weakened Republican field, which includes federal lobbyist, Virginian, and North Carolina-lover Dan Coats," he said.

From Senate Democrats' perspective, Ellsworth makes perfect sense. Handsome, charismatic and with a largely conservative voting record -- Ellsworth did vote for the President's health care bill but against the cap and trade legislation -- he is the closest thing that Indiana Democrats have to a younger version of Bayh.

(It doesn't hurt Ellsworth's chances that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is a major fan of his; Emanuel recruited Ellsworth, then the sheriff of Vanderburgh County, to run for Congress in 2006.)

One man's treasure is, of course, another man's trash. And, losing Ellsworth in the 8th district would make it extremely difficult for House Democrats to keep a seat that Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) carried by four points in 2008 but George W. Bush won by 24 points four years earlier.

The initial thinking was that picking Ellsworth was a win-win for Senate and House Democrats as Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel, long seen as a rising star, would hop into the 8th district race if the seat became vacant.

But that plan hit the skids on Tuesday when Weinzapfel told his local newspaper that he was not interested in another House bid. (He ran unsuccessfully for the 8th district in 1996.) "In 1996, I came up a few votes short," Weinzapfel told the Evansville Courier-Press. "And that's not something I've thought about tackling again."

Of course, it's possible Weinzapfel reconsiders -- although that seems unlikely. The more likely scenario is that state Rep. Trent Van Haaften -- an Ellsworth ally unknown to national Democrats -- steps into the void.

It's not clear yet whether Van Haaften, who served as Posey County Prosecutor for eight years before being elected to the state House in 2004, will develop into a quality candidate but he is not the known entity that either Ellsworth or Weinzapfel represent.

The fight between Senate and House strategists -- illustrated by the "battle for Brad" -- is nothing new in politics. But, it is exacerbated in this year where the entire Democratic party is under siege and there are genuine concerns in both chambers about losing their majorities.

For Senate Democrats, landing Ellsworth is a coup -- one of the only candidates who could hope to win Bayh's seat in what seems likely to be a very challenging atmosphere.

For House Democrats, it's the worst of both worlds. Ellsworth leaves the House to pursue a quixotic Senate bid while leaving putting them badly on the defensive in his seat in a year where every district is going to matter.

Which side is right? We won't know until November 2. But what's clear is that the Bayh retirement has exposed some long simmering tensions that don't seem likely to go away any time soon.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 18, 2010; 11:10 AM ET
Categories:  House , Senate  
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The Bloody Eighth is back! John Hostettler defeated Frank McCloskey to take the seat in 1994. Democrats John Weinzapfel, Gail Reicken, Paul Perry, Bryce Hartke, and Jon Jennings all had competitive races against him before Ellsworth. McCloskey had tough reelection races against now-SoS Richard Mourdock in 1990 and 1992.

The most famous race was in 1984, when Richard McIntyre ran against then-freshman McCloskey. The initial vote had McCloskey winning narrowly, by a couple dozen votes. Congressional Dems called for Secretary of State Ed Simcox to certify McCloskey as the winner. Simcox refused, saying he wanted to wait until the absentee votes were in. After the votes were in, Mourdock was ahead by about 2 votes. The House convened a three member panel (2 Dems and 1 Rep), to determine the winner. The two Dems determined that McCloskey had won, basically throwing some absentee votes arbitrarily. Republicans were enraged, and walked out of the chamber when McCloskey was sworn in. It was about as ugly as it's ever been in the House.

In the 1970s, this district had four different representatives, which might be a record. There was Roger Zion, who had unseated a Dem in 1968. Zion was defeated by Phillip Hayes in 1974, who retired after one term. The Dem who succeeded him was defeated by Joel Deckard in 1978. Deckard was defeated by McCloskey in 1982.

Posted by: joeyjoejoe | February 18, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

I do not know what has been going on in Indiana these past few years - but Indiana is a red state - there really is no way around it.

How the democrats have made the inroads which they have - not sure how that happened.

I have a suspicion that ACORN is somehow involved in Indiana - and who knows what has been going on.

Sooner or later, the opposing party comes back and reverses the other party's gains - and the natural balance is restored.

Again, who know what has been going on there in Indiana - however people should look into it.


Posted by: 37thand0street | February 18, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

the endless nuisance we know as dribbl:

Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 12:39 PM
Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 12:54 PM
Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 1:11 PM
Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 1:16 PM
Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 2:04 PM

Posted by: drivl | February 18, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

here's more winger 'humor"

WATCH: Young America's Foundation Spox Tries Obama-Cocaine Joke
Jason Mattera, a spokesman for Young America's Foundation, got in some zingers at CPAC today. He said the conference is just like Woodstock, except "unlike the left's gathering, our women are beautiful, we speak in complete sentences, and our notion of freedom doesn't consist of snorting cocaine. Which is certainly one thing that separates us from Barack Obama." Rimshot!

Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse


There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Posted by: JakeD2 | February 18, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Should we continue our post mortem discussion of the GOP?

Posted by: newbeeboy | February 18, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

"At one time the media was the social conscience of American society. Now fourth estate distortions color any political discussion and push right-wing propaganda as news."

"You are sure right about this. The MSM tries to deliver every election for republicans, the further right the better."

Are the posts by drindl and BigTrees serious? Throughout the campaign and election of Barack Obama, there was no doubt that the MSM was behind him all the way. Why are you weeping now if, occasionally, you do read an article that questions whether or not Barack Obama has proved to be all that he claimed to be?

We believe in balance in the news media. Hopefully, in the coming months, the media will be honest with themselves and with their readers as they witness the dangerous path charted by the likes of Obama, Reid, and Pelosi.

Posted by: keepthefaith | February 18, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Again, not as dim as thinking that "speechifying" is the same as actually "governing".

You keep using that word "ironically". I do not think it means what you think it means.

Posted by: JakeD2 | February 18, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

God, how dim is this?

'Picking up Sarah Palin’s lead, this morning’s speakers at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) repeatedly made fun of President Obama and his use of teleprompters. Many conservatives apparently haven’t gotten tired of this well-worn, hollow joke, with conference attendees laughing and applauding each time:

– “We were watching all the images of that winter weather — this extraordinary blizzard — that even impacted government. … The President couldn’t find anywhere to set up a teleprompter to announce new taxes.” — Florida U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio

– “I think we’ve confirmed you can’t govern from a teleprompter.” — Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)

Ironically, DeMint and Rubio were standing in front of a teleprompter…while they were bashing Obama’s teleprompter.

Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Wonder why CC didn't mention this?

"Shiny clean Dan Coats --champion of helping foreign corporations write our laws:

Lobbyist Dan Coats---Following the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the “floodgates” have opened for enhanced corporate spending on elections. As ThinkProgress has reported, foreign-owned subsidiaries and foreign shareholders in American corporations are preparing to pour their resources into defeating and electing candidates of their choice.

While Democrats in Congress have already put forward proposals to develop clean elections, the GOP is largely championing the new status quo of limitless power for corporations. Guiding corporations into this new uncharted territory of election law, lobbyists and specialized law firms have stepped up to the plate.

Among lobbying shops offering post-Citizens United assistance to corporate clients is a firm called King and Spalding, the firm of *Indiana GOP Senate candidate Dan Coats.* King and Spalding recently released a document promising to corporate clients:

New Opportunities for Corporations to Engage in Election Campaigns: [...] Citizens United provides corporations with the ability to engage in the political process in dynamic ways. [...] While not every corporation will want to buy advertisements that simply ask the public to vote for or against a candidate, every corporation should view the Citizens United decision as providing new tools to assist it in advancing policies and legislation that are in its shareholders’ interests.

Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

The Democrap Socialists don't have JUST a "Indiana problem", they have a Barack Obama problem nationwide, including Indiana.
The reason they're losing the support of the voters--with the exeption of the hard-line Democrap Socialists/Communists and Obama's racist tribal members--is that the more the American people see Obama's ineptitude and Keystone Cop-like stumbling and bumbling way of governing, the more they're having buyers remorse. What they should have learned about Obama's total inexperience running anything, and his all--Communist associations, and racist white and America--hating past from our supposed "Watchdogs for the People"--the MSM--BEFORE the election of 2008, they're now learning the hard way AFTER the MSM successfully censored it to get Obama elected. They've now figured out that Obama is just a lying windbag and street--corner hustler, who just makes things up out of thin air, telling everybody what they want to hear to get elected, and then just follows the Communist agenda step by step of Saul Alinski's book "Rules for Radicals". The more the American people see what's being done to our country and our freedoms by Obama and his looney-left bunch of Socialists, Communists, and progressive shysters, the more they don't like it, and the more they'll vote against it.
The midterm elections come November will be fun.

Posted by: armpeg | February 18, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Oh please, Chrissy was just upset that EVERYONE in the media didn't have a tingly feeling up their leg.

Posted by: JakeD2 | February 18, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Chris Matthews said that the MSM was McCain's 'natural base' and he was right. They fawned on him just like they did Mittens.

Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

"The MSM tries to deliver every election for republicans, the further right the better."

LOL!!! Katie Couric and Chris Matthews were certainly pulling for McCain-Palin last time around; incisive analysis there!

Posted by: JakeD2 | February 18, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Having Ellsworth run is about as senseless as having Melanconin (if I misspelled his name I apologize) run in Louisiana. They are both giving up relatively safe seats that the GOP will likely win with ease for a Senate race that is very likely unwinnable. I'm not complaining; I am thrilled that there are more GOP targets, but somebody at the DNC should learn to weigh the odds and realize that open seats will not be blue after Nov.

Posted by: TexasProud1 | February 18, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

"At one time the media was the social conscience of American society. Now fourth estate distortions color any political discussion and push right-wing propaganda as news."

You are sure right about this. The MSM tries to deliver every election for republicans, the further right the better.

Posted by: drindl | February 18, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse


Why include the quote from the DSCC flak? If he doesn't want to comment on the article, why give him a free shot? There is nothing that requires you to run his comment. Instead, you give him free space for a partisan attack in your newspaper that has nothing to do with the subject you are writing about?

And if you do choose to run it, then shouldn't you give the NRSC the same free space? Again, I wouldn't run either comment unless they had something to add.

Its just a thought. Too many journos simply cut and paste their statement into the article...even though it has nothing to do with the story.

Posted by: why10 | February 18, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Democrats have a bigger problem in the right-wing media. Not only do Democrats have to debate Republicans they have to fight through the distorted reporting from the main stream media.

At one time the media was the social conscience of American society. Now fourth estate distortions color any political discussion and push right-wing propaganda as news.

Like this page, the news media in this country has simply become another social networking tool, nothing more.

Posted by: BigTrees | February 18, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: JakeD2 | February 18, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

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