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SEAT: Democrats need bench beyond Evan Bayh

August 6, 2016

Seat
With boyish good looks and perfectly coiffed politician hair, he’s every consultant’s dream. Plucked from central casting’s “Ride Dad’s Coattails List,” he causes hearts to flutter and heads to spin, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s got nearly $10 million burning a hole in his interest-bearing campaign account.

I don’t have to tell you who the subject of this column is, because you’ve obviously figured it out by now. Birch Evans Bayh III is no ordinary public figure. He is the singular figure in which the image of the modern-day Indiana Democratic Party has been molded. Without him, they not only have less-than-perfect hair, they are practically nothing.

In fact, I’m of the belief that, if Indiana law allowed candidates to run for multiple offices at once, Democrats could live in a sense of political euphoria with Bayh on the ballot for every office up for play. Bayh for Senate! Bayh for council! Bayh for commissioner! Bayh for coroner!

“Coroner Bayh, this is a case only you can handle.” Who wouldn’t love that? I would even consider pitching an Evan Bayh “NCIS” spin-off. He can do anything!

But because the Democrats did not find a way to build a bench of talent in the post-Bayh years, they found themselves pining for his return to the Hoosier state. Baron Hill’s planned walk-across-the-state sequel wasn’t going to cut it in the year of smash-mouth politics, so Indiana Democrats begged someone who left the U.S. Senate because of its partisan rancor in 2011 to give it another shot. Because, you know, it’s much nicer now.

I could spend dozens of words offering top-shelf snark on that topic, but why bother? Bayh’s re-emergence writes its own material. What it also does is prove, without a doubt, that the Indiana Democratic Party’s bench couldn’t field a full five-person basketball squad.

There’s South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Indianapolis City-County Councillor Vop Osili, both of whom lost statewide races in 2010. And then who? Christina Hale might have a future. My frequent sparring partner on WRTV’s “Indianapolis This Week,” former Marion County Democratic Party Executive Director Adam Kirsch, suggested Glenda Ritz, Pete Visclosky and Andre Carson are part of his team’s bench. I didn’t have a chance to laugh during our segment, so here it is now in print: ha ha ha.

Visclosky was first elected in 1984 (note: one year after I was born). If that’s somehow a rising star in the party, then Buttigieg has no prayer. He’ll have to be mayor until he’s 80 to have any kind of chance elbowing his way to the top of that octogenarian heap.

With or without Visclosky, that still might be the case. If Democrats have to keep going back to Bayh to give them a shot at winning elections, how will they ever grow a respectable party in this state?

I mean, they replace a candidate who lost a campaign for the very same U.S. Senate seat in 1990 with a candidate who literally ran away from the Senate because he couldn’t hack it. To top it off, they are running the exact same candidate for governor that they ran four years ago.

So if there is, in fact, a Democratic bench, when will we see it? It’s only another 20 years until Bayh is 80, and I’ve got 47 years until I’m there myself.•

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Seat is communications director for Eric Holcomb and served as former deputy press secretary to George W. Bush and senior project manager at Hathaway Strategies. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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