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|Mon, 02-15-2010 - 5:37pm|
Senator Evan Bayh to Retire in Blow to Democrats
By Heidi Przybyla and Kim Chipman
Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Democratic U.S. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana announced he won’t seek re-election this year in a blow to his party’s struggle to keep control of Congress.
Bayh, 54, a former Indiana governor in his second six-year term as a senator, said at a press conference in Indianapolis today that his decision was motivated by disillusionment over partisanship in Congress.
“Congress is not operating as it should,” Bayh said. “There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress; too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem- solving.” Bayh cited lawmakers’ failure to create a bipartisan commission to address the national deficit and legislation to create jobs that “fell apart” last week.
His decision leaves Democrats scrambling to find a candidate and puts the party in danger of losing what had been considered a “relatively safe” seat in the Senate, said Brian Howey, author of Howey Politics Indiana, a nonpartisan newsletter.
Bayh will be the third unappointed Democratic senator to announce plans not to seek re-election this year, in addition to Connecticut’s Christopher Dodd and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.
“This is an absolute stunner,” Howey said in an interview.
Democrats, who also control the House of Representatives, have been particularly on edge since Republican Scott Brown last month won the Massachusetts Senate seat occupied by the late Edward Kennedy, a Democrat, for almost a half-century. That cost Democrats the 60th vote they need to break Republican filibusters.
Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, said Democrats now may lose up to eight Senate seats this November. Republicans would need to capture 10 to regain control.
Regardless, the losses will “dramatically change the legislative dynamic on Capitol Hill,” said Rothenberg. “There really will be an incentive for bipartisanship, certainly by the White House and the Democratic leadership.”
President Barack Obama, in a statement, praised Bayh for “reaching across the aisle on issues ranging from job creation and economic growth to fiscal responsibility and national security.”
White House aides tried to persuade Bayh to seek re- election, according to a senior administration official who asked not to be identified.
‘Would Have Won’
Bayh “likely would have won re-election,” said Thomas Mann, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Bayh is the son of former U.S. Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana.
Republican former Indiana Senator Dan Coats is gathering petition signatures needed to officially declare his candidacy for the seat. “I don’t see another Democrat who could hold the seat in this political environment,” said Mann.
Bayh stressed his decision was “very difficult” and “deeply personal” and should not “reflect adversely on the president,” who is working on the “right agenda for America.”
Still, Republicans cast Bayh’s move as a reflection on the Democratic Party. “Moderate Democrats across the country are running for the hills because they sold out their constituents and don’t want to face them at the ballot box,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement.
The political climate is putting Obama’s goals of revamping the U.S. health-care system and overhauling energy laws in question.
‘Not a Surprise’
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the news about Bayh was “not a surprise.”
Bayh’s decision stems from frustration over the ability to get “things done” in the Senate, said Anita Dunn, a Democratic strategist who has advised Bayh for a decade.
“He’s been looking to find another way, another forum, for public service,” she said today in a telephone interview. Bayh made his final decision not to run this past weekend, she said. “He’s been leaning toward this and has been talking to friends and close advisers all year.”
Bayh had raised about $13 million in campaign funds, according to Dunn.
Bayh said examples of Congress’s dysfunction are “legion” and that “all of this and much more has led me to believe that there are better ways to serve my fellow citizens.”
“Capitol Hill is not a happy place these days,” said Charlie Cook, publisher of the independent Cook Political Report.
‘Lack of Enthusiasm’
Cook said that while Bayh’s announcement was a “total surprise,” some Democratic operatives had said the Indiana Democrat was approaching the prospect of six more years in the Senate with “a lack of enthusiasm.”
Democrats’ majority in the Senate after November “will likely be razor thin,” Cook said. In addition, he said, “there is an increasing likelihood that Democrats will lose the House.”
Dorgan and Dodd announced last month they weren’t seeking re-election this year. Republicans also are in a position to gain the Delaware seat occupied for almost four decades by Vice President Joseph Biden, according to the Cook Report.
Bayh, in a Jan. 22 interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” said he was confident he would win re-election in November.
“It’s a more challenging environment for every incumbent,” and “probably more for Democrats than Republicans,” Bayh said. “But the reports of my poll numbers having declined are not accurate.”