Monday, February 15, 2010

Sen. Evan Bayh Is Retiring

Now that we're getting closer to the filing deadlines for the 2010 Congressional campaigns, I expect we'll begin to hear about more incumbents deciding to retire. In a year where there is intense anger at incumbents of both parties, we've already seen a large number of people announce that they won't seek election and it appears as though Sen. Evan Bayh is now joining 10 other Senators (4 other Democrats and 6 Republicans) in announcing that he won't be running again.

While many of the other Senators who are retiring were facing extremely tough re-election campaigns, recent polls showed Bayh with a 20 point lead over potential Republican opponent former Senator Dan Coats and he had about $13 million in the bank which could have helped him if the race happened to get a little heated closer to election day. Another interesting aspect of this is that despite the fact that Indiana tilts a little bit to the right, Bayh is most definitely a centrist who has wide name recognition which could have helped as many Republicans had been hoping to potential challenge Bayh even though early polls didn't give them much hope. As Chris Cillizza points out, Bayh's retirement really does change things up and could make it much harder for Democrats to hold the seat.
Without Bayh, Democrats may look to their congressional delegation where Reps. Baron Hill, Brad Ellsworth and Joe Donnelly are likely to take a look at running.

It's not clear whether the Republican field will grow. While national Republicans had rallied around Coats in recent days, the party may well take another run at Rep. Mike Pence who considered a challenge to Bayh before bowing out late last month.

No matter how the two fields shake out, holding the Indiana seat just got much harder for Democrats. Although President Barack Obama won the Hoosier State narrowly in 2008, it is generally regarded by strategists of both parties as swing territory with a slight edge for Republicans. The national playing field's tilt toward Republicans makes the seat all the tougher for Democrats to hold.
What's also worth pointing out is that there are still more Republican members of the Senate retiring than Democrats. When you combine that with the fact that Bayh had a large lead in the polls and a huge campaign warchest, the Republicans would most definitely be wrong to spin this into an example of populist anger at Democrats. That simply isn't the case here and the overall situation still suggests that Republican incumbents have just as much to be worried about as incumbent Democrats.


  1. Get ready for the Fox spin: Democrats are running scared! They're dropping like flies!

  2. I completely agree that this is going to be seen as "Democrats running scared" and any reporting of similar Republican stories will likely be conveniently forgotten.

    But I do think the populist anger plays a role in Bayh's decision. He's taken a beating (sometimes with good reason!) from the left as well and the days of Republicans respecting moderate Democrats at the polls is likely over for a while. I do believe that Bayh could have won (all indications point to it) but I imagine his day is rather unpleasant.

    Regardless, I have a hard time seeing Dems holding this seat.

  3. I think it's better to list out the retirements rather than just say "6 Republicans, 5 Democrats". So here they are:

    LeMeuix (FL) -- appointed
    Voinovich (OH)
    Bond (MO)
    Bunning (KY)
    Gregg (NH)
    Brownback (KS)

    Burris (IL) -- appointed
    Kaufman (DE) -- appointed
    Dodd (CT)
    Dorgan (ND)
    Bayh (IN)

    Let's go ahead and take IL and DE off the list, because they're placeholders for Obama and Biden who won higher office. I'd take LeMeuix off the list, too, though Martinez was a resigner, not someone who moved up.

    Next you look at seats who strengthened their party's chances by retiring. In that you include CT and KY (Bunning was forced out for being a weak incumbent). Finally, Brownback's retirement has nothing to do with outside circumstances, because he would have waltzed to re-election as easily as he is currently waltzing to the Governor's mansion.

    So you have three tough open seats in swing states for Republicans, in OH, MO, and NH. Interestingly, all three retirements came very ealy on in the cycle. And you have two tough open seats in swing states for Dems, in ND and IN, and they came in the last two months.

    Those are the only five worth looking at for reasons in the political environment.

  4. Good post, VAB.

    I'd also add that Bayh is likely retiring because it's pretty clear that he will no longer be considered a possibility in Democratic presidential politics. It's hard to imagine that he was on Obama's top three list, given how frustrating he has been to get onboard the more progressive agendas.