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EDITORIAL: Bayh’s entry will give voters a choice

July 16, 2016

One of the wildest weeks in Indiana political history saw Evan Bayh jump back into the political fray to replace the sputtering Baron Hill in the U.S. Senate race. Suddenly, a contest that seemed a lock for Republican Todd Young very well could swing to the Democrats—and potentially pave the way for the party to regain control of the chamber.

Then there were the wild antics in the presidential race, which played out right here in central Indiana. At a rally in Westfield where some observers thought Donald Trump might declare Gov. Mike Pence his running mate, the billionaire businessman barely uttered his name before closing with this doozy: “I don’t know if he’ll be your governor or your vice president. Who the hell knows?” The drama only escalated the next day, when Trump met briefly with Pence at his Meridian Street residence and then met with other vice presidential hopefuls at The Conrad Indianapolis hotel downtown.

With Pence potentially leaving the governor’s race, supporters of his predecessor, Gov. Mitch Daniels, began yearning for what they viewed as the good old days, when the governor espoused a conservative agenda that was devoid of the fixation with social issues that has marked Pence’s governorship. Former Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle even launched a “Draft Mitch” campaign, hoping to lure him from his perch atop Purdue University, and the Weekly Standard quoted two unnamed sources as saying he “hasn’t said no” to the idea.

While some observers might see the ridiculously improbable chain of events as evidence of the sad state of politics in this county, we view it from a more hopeful vantage point.

The voters now will get a real choice in the Senate race. Until Hill, a former U.S. representative, stepped aside, pundits universally predicted that the seat, now held by the retiring Dan Coats, would stay in the Republican column.

And it wasn’t as though Hill’s decision to step aside thwarted the wishes of voters. He skated into the primary election without facing a primary opponent.

To be sure, Bayh is a formidable politician—one with a better shot at upending Young than perhaps any Democrat in the country. But he’ll have a lot of explaining to do after citing divisiveness as the reason he gave up his Senate seat six years ago and opted against seeking re-election. The climate now makes those days feel like a “Kumbaya” singalong.

Bayh also will have to answer for what he’s been doing since leaving office, which included cashing in as a partner of a Washington, D.C., law firm, serving as adviser to a private equity firm, and joining corporate boards. The same pushback against privilege that has helped fuel Trump’s campaign could chip away at his.

We hope Bayh and Young, a U.S. representative who has an extensive military background and was an aide to former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, wage a campaign of substance that draws clear lines for voters.

Ultimately, the circus-like atmosphere will settle down, and voters will have important decisions to make in November—both in Indiana and nationally.•

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