Puzzling over why Evan Bayh waited until the last minute to retire

February 15, 2010
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Another week, another bombshell in Indiana politics. Today, the news came from Sen. Evan Bayh, who said he wouldn’t run for a third term. Here's one version of the developing story.

Just days after U.S. Rep. Steve Buyer said he would drop out of the House due to his wife’s illness, Bayh said he’s had it with partisan gridlock, and would prefer a leadership role in business, charity or higher education.

Do you believe the reasons Bayh cited—basically a caustic, poisonous political environment that all but prevents getting things accomplished?

Who should jump in the race for the Democrats? Brad Ellsworth, the House member from southwestern Indiana? Ellsworth's counterpart from southeastern Indiana, Baron Hill?

Where does this leave Republicans including Dan Coats, who was battered when he announced he’d seek Bayh’s seat in the Republican primary? Will Mike Pence jump in? (UPDATE: Pence is staying out.)

UPDATE: Just some follow-up thoughts, now that Bayh’s press conference is over (in which he revealed little beyond this morning’s statement).

Why would Bayh wait until the last minute to make an announcement like this and put his party in such a predicament to find a replacement? The deadline is Friday to get on the ballot for the May primary election. Any candidate must gather 500 or more signatures from each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts to qualify.

His stated reason for getting out of Congress is understandable enough. No one seems to get along anymore, so little gets done. Bayh singled out the Senate vote a couple of weeks ago killing a bipartisan commission to attack the federal deficit as one example of the intractable conditions.

Still, though, why wait until the last minute to bow out? Had Republicans discovered some dirt? Did he see increasingly unpleasant poll numbers? Did he feel waiting until the 11th hour would give a favored candidate an edge to get on the ballot? Did he sit bolt upright in bed one last week night and realized he’d had it with Washington politics?

Given Bayh’s history, we may never know. He isn’t given to sharing private thoughts.

What do you think?

UPDATE: IUPUI political scientist Bill Blomquist believes Bayh might have done state Democrats a favor by waiting to deliver the news.

Pence, possibly the strongest Republican who could have jumped into the race, had begged off and very publicly announced he would stay in the House. Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita is on record as saying he will seek Buyer’s seat.

Thus, by leading Republicans to believe he would seek a third term, Bayh in effect cleared some underbrush for the Democrat who wins the primary.

Blomquist also notes Bayh could throw a lot of his $13 million war chest to the Democratic nominee.


  • Shot at Gov
    I'm just wondering if it's at all possible that he wants to be Governor again since Mitch is gone and there doesn't seem to be a well known name being kicked around at this time.... He's eligible again....
  • Shot at Gov 2
    My first thought was Governor again, too. Not sure where that would leave Weinzapfel, who seems all but annointed by the Democrats for 2012 Governor. Maybe Ellsworth moves to Senate and Weinzapfel moves to House?
  • Bye, Bayh
    Glad to see career politican Bayh leaving Congress. He's done nothing but further expand the size of the federal government and work against his oath to uphold the Constitution. I hope Bayh stays away from politics though unlikely since he comes from a family that has known virtually nothing but it. John Hostetler is running for the Republican nomination for Bayh's seat and he seems to be the closest thing to a Constitutionalist available. We certainly don't need more of Coats. We had enough of him.
  • Republican Opportunity
    Mike Pence...please reconsider. This would put you in line to become the Senior Senator when Lugar finally retires.
    INDIANAPOLIS (Feb. 15, 2010)

    Dan Coats released the following statement:

    "Senator Bayh has served the state as governor and senator for two decades; I respect his commitment to public service.

    â??I will continue to run just as hard and take nothing for granted. I am running so the views and interests of Hoosiers are represented in Washington, so Hoosiers can get back to work in good jobs, and so Americans are safe and secure from threats to our national security.

    "As a nation, we are currently headed badly off course; the people of Indiana want to change that and want to be heard in Washington. I will continue to make the case throughout the state that I am in the strongest position to get there and fight for all Hoosiers and all Americans."
  • Look up the election law
    What do I think? I think you need to check Indiana law. There are many months left for the deadline for the Dem party to put forward a candidate that its central committee can pick; this week is just the deadline for candidates to put themselves on the ballot.

    Sure, the Dems won't wait months to do so, or they would not have enough time to rustle up the money needed. But they can get started now, get a name going, and catch up -- if Bayh helps his would-be successor. As he will want to do if he goes back in for governor. Of course, if he is going to get his reward for fighting the public option with a job at his wife's big corporate health insurance company and not run for office again, then your job is to ask him how he will distribute his campaign fund.

    And then you will see what is next -- just as you will see a Dem on the ballot, never fear. It's the law, and you could look it up.
    • Huh?
      Was I the only one to wonder what scandal was lurking?

      I remember when he was gov, the rumor was that the twins looked quite a bit like one of the troopers on his security detail. Just sayin'...
    • Congress is in partisan gridlock? Did Evan really just find this out? What did he think was going on his last 11 years in congress? And this with a dem president and a dem congress.

      Real answer? Obama forced him into being a real democrat which is suicide in Indiana. He realized he would actually have to work hard and still may not make it. i think he wanted to go out with a perfect record. Add to it the Republicans were going to drag him and his wife through the mud for many of the decisions they have made.

      I expect he has a high dollar job waiting for him somewhere, maybe engineered by national dems to pay for his vote.
    • You are spot on
      The comments from Gee are spot on. Yet another IBJ column that doesn't make much sense. Waiting until today to announce your retirement made perfect sense. Now, he's cleared some of the top Republican candidates out and the Democrats can pick whomever they want to run since nobody will get the signatures in time for the primary ballot.

      The absolute worst time to announce this would have been three or four weeks ago. That would have kept the stronger Republican candidates in. Plus, you ran the risk of some rogue Dem candidate getting the required signatures by then. Now, Bayh and the state Democratic leadership can hand pick the candidate they want. And, that candidate gets the Bayh war chest (unless if he's running for governor) and Bayh's support on the campaign trail.

      Perhaps thinking through the "why" before writing a column next time might be a good idea...
    • Gov?
      Perhaps you should ask the state employees to whom no raise was given for a longer period of time in a good economic climate if they would like to have him back as Governor. I think it is a pathetic way of letting the politicians decide whom should run in November rather than have a contested primary. Once again, the politicians think that they know best. Maybe Susan can get him a job @ Wellpoint.

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