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Evan Bayh / Government & Economic Development / Government

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

February 15, 2010

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.


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