By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh's announcement he would not seek a third term in the United Sates Senate came as quite a shock to the political establishment.
It shouldn't have.
Bayh has an impeccable political pedigree. The son of a senator, repeatedly elected to statewide office in "Red" Indiana--including two terms as governor--a former head of the same moderate Democratic Leadership Council that propelled Bill Clinton into the White House, the thinking surrounding Bayh was not so much a matter of if he would eventually run for president but when. And now he's leaving the senate--and at the last minute, just hours before the filing deadline closes.
The manner of Bayh's departure is a hallmark of the problem the Democrats are having holding on to the power they won in the back-to-back elections of 2006 and 2008. By bailing out the way he has, Bayh has left it up to the Indiana Democratic Party's leadership--rather than the voters--to pick the nominee who will run in his stead. And if there was ever a year when the voters seem primed to reject the nominee of the old fashioned "smoke filled room," 2010 may be it.
With $13 million in his campaign account, Bayh would have been able to mount an effective but not necessarily winning effort to keep the seat he has held for the last twelve years. He is not however the only Democrat to choose retirement over the possibility of defeat. North Dakota's Byron Dorgan and Connecticut's Chris Dodd are both walking away from the Senate after decades of service, recognizing that the Democrats failure to achieve anything substantial during the first year of Barack Obama's presidency would not help them win re-election.
Bayh, Dorgan and Dodd are not the only seemingly invulnerable Democrats who may find it difficult to win re-election this coming November. A cold, hard look at the new political reality led Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden to walk away from the opportunity to keep one of the state's two U.S. Senate seats in the family. California's Barbara Boxer and Washington state's Patty Murray have posted poll numbers in the past several weeks that are anything but impressive. Add to that the number of appointed rather than elected Democrats in the Senate who must defend their seats, and it is beginning to look like a Republican sweep is in the making.