Sen. Evan Bayh’s decision not to seek a third term left Indiana Democrats on Monday scrambling to identify a general election
candidate while grappling with the loss of their most reliable vote-getter and the only party member to win a statewide office
in the past decade.
State Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said no one had approached him about the seat and
declined to discuss possible candidates, but observers quickly focused on southern Indiana congressmen Baron Hill and Brad
Ellsworth as fiscally conservative contenders who might capture voters’ attention.
"I think anybody who holds
a congressional seat from Indiana, obviously, would be considered right out of the chute as a possible candidate," said
Ann DeLaney, a former Indiana Democratic chairwoman.
Hill, who is seeking election to a sixth term in the 9th District,
likely has the most name recognition, said Brian Vargus, a political science professor at IUPUI.
were to jump up to lead the ticket, he’s a pretty good campaigner," Vargus said.
Hill was overseas on a military
trip and couldn’t be reached for comment Monday, said spokeswoman Katie Moreau.
Ellsworth, who is in his second
term in southwestern Indiana’s 8th District, said in a statement that he would take a few days to talk to his wife and to
supporters "about where I can best serve our state."
Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Donnelly said he was focusing
on his re-election campaign in northern Indiana’s 2nd district and former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, a top aide to
Bayh when he was governor, said he wasn’t interested in the Senate seat.
Bayh’s announcement left little time for
a replacement to meet Friday’s deadline to file in the May 4 Democratic primary, meaning the next Senate candidate likely
will be picked by the party’s 32-member state central committee. That has to happen by June 30.
Bayh has loomed
at the top of Democratic politics in Indiana since he first won election as secretary of state in 1986. Two years later, he
became the first Democrat to win the governor’s office in 20 years.
Two terms as a popular governor launched him
toward solid Senate victories in 1998 and 2004; he received more than 60 percent of the vote both times.
just count on Evan Bayh being around," said Robert Dion, a professor of American politics at the University of Evansville.
"He is the visible face of the Democratic Party."
Bayh’s decision also raises the stakes for May’s Republican
primary, of which the winner now has a chance to emerge as a favorite in November’s election rather than an underdog.
State Republican Chairman Murray Clark said whoever the Democrats pick "will have to start from scratch."
"Senator Bayh had $13 million in the bank, extraordinary name recognition and the like," Clark said. "It
will send them scrambling for a candidate."
Bayh remained upbeat about Democrats’ chances following a crowded
primary fight among Republicans, including former Sen. Dan Coats, who declined to seek re-election against Bayh in 1988.
"That’s going to take resources and it’s going to take attention," Bayh said. "Our party will be able
to forge a consensus around a candidate who can focus on the fall election and may very well start out ahead from a financial
standpoint, and depending on who that candidate is, that person might very well be well known."
For his part,
Bayh said he wanted to serve the public in other ways: working with business to create jobs, helping guide an institution
of higher learning, or helping run a charitable or philanthropic endeavor. He did not say whether he would consider running
for another political office.