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Pondering an Evan Bayh redux

February 22, 2010

Speculation that Evan Bayh will run for governor in 2012 and use the office as a springboard to the presidency in 2016 has taken on a life of its own since his announcement a week ago he wouldn’t seek a third term in the U.S. Senate.

Outlets ranging from the mainstream Associated Press to obscure political blogs have noted Bayh didn’t rule out a gubernatorial run. He also pointed out his preference for executive positions and enjoyment of public service. And he’s sitting on a pile of cash.

Some interesting scenarios could play out if he does run for governor.

As was the case when Bayh first became governor in 1988, he’d likely arrive in office with the wind at his back. The economy should be stronger, and it might stay robust until he finished a presidential run. He wouldn’t be faced with unpopular budget or administrative decisions like the governors who are still trying to survive the recession’s aftermath.

A rising economy could churn out more tax revenue for projects that might get Bayh noticed during a presidential run.

Bayh’s steady, keep-the-wheels-on style also might prove appealing if Hoosiers want a rest. Eight years of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ reforms could create enough fatigue that voters would clamor for someone, anyone, who promises not to change their lives.

It will be interesting to see what Hoosier voters actually want in 2012. Most know the state is in a world of hurt and aren’t enamored with prospects of a bleak future. If companies start announcing expansions and residents think the storm is passing, they might opt for status quo; if they believe the expansions and new jobs are too little, too late, they might demand creative ideas, which would force Bayh to innovate.

Keep in mind that despite the flurry of energy from the Daniels administration, the main benchmark the administration uses to monitor its effectiveness, per-capita personal income, is still growing slower than the national average. And school performance is stuck in neutral.

Daniels’ reforms, along with the changes launched in recent months by state education chief Tony Bennett, might bear fruit in the long term. Daniels and Bennett argue it’s hard to turn around a state that’s been languishing since the Nixon era.

If the changes bear fruit, and schools perform better and the economy creates well-paying jobs, Bayh benefits. If they don’t, he has room to say he can do better.

Hoosiers may or may not want a cautious Bayh. But in order to stand out to presidential voters, Bayh will need to add timber to a resume that’s pretty thin on significant accomplishments.

So, Bayh might have to take uncharacteristic risk whether he wants to or not.

What do you think about Bayh running for governor again—or for president, for that matter? Should he, or shouldn’t he?

How would voters receive him, and what would he need to do to win?

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