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Bayh catches party leaders by surprise

February 24, 2010
Evan Bayh, the two-term U.S. senator from Indiana, announced last week that he will not seek re-election, catching the Democrat party offguard and unprepared to come up with a viable candidate to succeed him.

The deadline to turn in signatures to seek the office was Tuesday, Feb. 16, one day after Bayh made his announcement, making it virtually impossible for the party to find another candidate for the primary election in May.

In a speech Monday, Feb. 15, Bayh cited reasons for his decision to quit.

"After all these years, my passion for service to my fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so by serving in Congress has waned," Bayh said. "To put it in words most Hoosiers can understand, I love working for the people of Indiana, I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress. I will not, therefore, be a candidate for election to the Senate this November."

Bayh went on to say that his decision should not be interpreted for more than it is, a difficult, deeply personal one.

"I am not motivated by strident partisanship or ideology," he said. "These traits may be useful in many walks of life, but they are not highly valued in Congress. My decision should not reflect adversely upon my colleagues who continue to serve in the Senate. The public would be surprised and pleased to know that those who serve them in the Senate, despite their policy and political differences, are unfailingly hard-working and devoted to the public good as they see it. And my decision should not reflect adversely on the president. I look forward to working with him during the next 11 months to get our deficit under control, get the economy moving again, regulate Wall Street to avoid future financial crisis and reform education so that all children can fulfill their God-given potential. This is the right agenda for America."

But Bayh said he was frustrated by partisanship and a lack of progress on centrist policies and that it was those policy frustrations, not political considerations, that led to his decision to not seek re-election.

With $13 million in his campaign coffers and a respectable lead in the polls, Bayh said he remained confident of re-election.

"But I simply believe I can best contribute to society in another way," he said, mentioning the possibility of "running a business, a university or charity."

The move to not seek re-election stunned many politicians, and the timing of Bayh's announcement put the Democrat party in an awkward position of having a seat to fill with no time to collect the 4,500 signatures needed to run for the office by the Feb. 16 deadline. Only one candidate, Bloomington café owner Tamyra d'lppolito, was already interested in seeking Bayh's seat but failed to submit the required signatures to be placed on the ballot. The Democrat party's 32-member central committee will now have to choose the party's Senate nominee for the November election.

"I believe Bayh had plenty of time to let the Democrat party know about his intentions," Debbie Montgomery, a Democratic precinct committee person in Crawford County, said. "I'm sure he knew what he was going to do long before he did it. But he waited until the last minute and left his party hanging out to dry. He's been in office for several years and Congress didn't change overnight. He knew in advance what he was dealing with. But by quitting when he did, he just stabbed the party in the back."

Jerry Brewer, Crawford County Democratic chairman, was surprised at Bayh's announcement.

"It was surely unexpected," he said. "I think he was just as dissatisfied with things in Washington as the rest of us. The leaders of both parties are frustrated. But he didn't resign; he just doesn't want to run again. The timing of his decision doesn't look good, and it was shock to the party. He would have been hard to beat. He had the money and probably the support to keep his seat, but maybe he has other plans."

Bayh was elected Indiana's secretary of state in 1986, then two years later, when he was 33, ran for governor and won. He was the first Democrat in 20 years to hold that office and was the youngest governor in the United States.

He was re-elected governor in 1992 with the highest percentage of votes in a statewide election in modern Indiana history. He had an approval rating of 80 percent during his last year as governor.

Bayh ran for the U.S. Senate in 1998, defeating Paul Helmke with 64 percent of the vote. He was re-elected in 2004, defeating Marvin Scott, a Republican challenger. Bayh was on the list of possible vice presidential candidates in 2004 and 2008.

"I think he's been doing the best he could in Washington," Brewer said. "There's so much partisanship; both sides do it. I think he may have just been fed up with it all. But, who knows, he may run for governor again or he may get out of politics for a while. But we probably haven't heard the last of him."

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