Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Et Tu, Bayh?

Evan Bayh is the latest congressional Democrat
who doesn't want to work for votes in 2010.

Evan Bayh's decision not to seek re–election as a senator from Indiana is yet another blow to Democrats in what is shaping up to be a tougher–than–expected year for the president's party.

Well, it seems to me — given Indiana's electoral history — a Democrat, even a centrist Democrat, has to work pretty hard to win there, even when the circumstances are favorable for them. And, so far, circumstances in 2010 haven't been looking favorable for Democrats, be they leftists or centrists.

It's hard for me to know what will happen now — and it's looking like it's tough for a lot of people to make sense of it. According to Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully, the filing deadline is this week, probably too late for a heavyweight in either party to get on the primary ballot. Thus, the Republicans are left with a field of weak prospects — and Democrats have no one, since the expectation that Bayh would run seems to have driven off any Democrats who might have run if they had known Bayh was going to retire.

So Tully speculates that Indiana's Democratic leaders will select a nominee. It's not the ideal solution, but it seems to be their only option.

And Tully laments the fact that "each election cycle the system claims not those politicians on the far edges of the spectrum, but the voices in the middle."

"At a time when moderates are mocked as wishy–washy, and insiders talk of purity tests," Tully writes, "die–hards in both parties love their moderates only on Election Day."

As Tully observes, "[I]n a rational world, the idea of a middle–aged man tiring of the political system and deciding to move on should make perfect sense."

But it clearly doesn't make sense to some. In fact, Bayh's decision appears to come as a surprise to many. Two recent polls — Daily Kos/Research 2000 Indiana Poll and Rasmussen Reports — showed that Bayh was competitive, if not leading.

British blogger Michael Tomasky thinks Bayh owed his fellow Democrats better than he gave them. Charles Lane of the Washington Post says Bayh's announcement amounted to saying "screw you" to Barack Obama and Harry Reid.

Yesterday, The Rothenberg Political Report — which previously believed the Democrats had a narrow advantage in their bid to hold the seat with Bayh on the ballot — moved the seat to "Toss–Up" status.

When one considers the Democratic seats that Rothenberg rates as leaning to Republicans or as toss–ups, it becomes clear that the idea of Republicans claiming a majority in the Senate this year is not nearly as far–fetched as it seemed a year ago.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, says Bayh was the "clear favorite ... that’s why this is such a setback for Democrats" — and he, too, has moved the race to "Toss Up" status. Sabato is respected in political circles, and his current assessment is that Republicans will capture seven Senate seats, 27 House seats and six gubernatorial races this year.

That wouldn't be enough to give the GOP the majority in either house of Congres — but it would make things very interesting for the last half of Obama's term in office.

Now, not everyone sees this development as a sign of an impending disaster for the Democrats. My hometown newspaper opined that "[i]t's highly probable that a few Democrats will lose valuable seats in November, but a clean sweep by Republicans isn't likely." Maybe, but that sounds an awful lot like what I was hearing in 1994.

We'll see how things play out.

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