Bye bye, Evan Bayh:

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh will not seek re-election this year, a decision that hands Republicans a prime pickup opportunity in the middle of the country.

“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 will say.

Bayh will announce the decision at a press conference later today.

Indiana would not have likely sent Bayh back for a third term in any event.  The entry of Dan Coats into the race gave Republicans at least one strong, credible candidate (there are others either declared or interested) to challenge Bayh on his support for the Obama agenda.  Bayh had recently tried to rebuild his centrist credibility, but his vote to allow ObamaCare to come to a floor vote undermined his supposed independence.

The only hope Democrats had in holding the Indiana seat was in keeping Bayh in the race.  The state relies on coal energy anyway, and the upcoming cap-and-trade bill would have hammered a state already suffering more than most from the Great Recession.  It usually skews conservative, and most certainly would have done so in the midterms, even with Bayh remaining in the race.

The next question will be which red-state Senate Democrat follows Bayh into retirement.  I’d bet that Blanche Lincoln may be considering her options in Arkansas, especially after Bayh’s decision to leave.  (via Geoff A)

Update: Bayh has managed to put his fellow Democrats in a real bind by waiting until the last minute to make this decision:

Bayh’s decision will set Dems scrambling for a replacement. The deadline to file to reach the ballot is Friday, meaning any Dem considering running for the seat must make a decision quickly.

One option would be Rep. Baron Hill, who as Reid notes beat an incumbent Republican in 2006 (so did Reps. Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth).  Unfortunately, two problems will arise with Hill, the first of which is that this isn’t 2006 and he’s in trouble to hold that seat.  The second is this video, in which Hill takes his first name a wee bit too seriously:

That will get played endlessly in Indiana no matter which race Hill chooses to contest.

Update II: Geoff points out that Bayh had considerably more reasons to stick around than some red-state Democrats:

The Scott Brown election to the Massactuetts Senate seat formerly held by Teddy Kennedy last month may have played a role in Bayh’s thinking. Considering the bankroll Bayh’s reelection campaign is carrying ($13 million) and his lead now in the polls, Bayh’s surprise announcement will surely be scrutinized by the political world for Bayh’s true rationale and the effects on politicians planning to remain in DC.

His “lead” was over state-level challengers, not necessarily Dan Coats, who hadn’t been in the mix long enough to get polled.  Bayh couldn’t get above 45% against anyone, a bad position for any incumbent.  The $13 million is a good point, though, and at least Bayh was competitive.  Looking at Lincoln’s numbers, or those of Harry Reid, in comparison put Bayh in a relatively stronger position in his race, at least until he quit.

Update III: National Journal has updated their story — the filing deadline is actually tomorrow:

Update: The filing deadline is tomorrow, not Friday, as we wrote earlier. Dem sources say Ellsworth is the candidate most likely to jump into the contest.

Update IV: Steve from No Runny Eggs points out that Democrats can nominate someone through the caucus process if no one signs up to run in time.  That’s true in most caucus states.  However, that process is almost certain to produce a liberal ideologue — the exact opposite of what Indiana Democrats need for the midterms.  They’d better hope they can get Ellsworth qualified in time.

Update V: How hard will it be to get a nominee on the ballot using the normal process? Justin Riemer, who worked for McCain in 2008 as Associate Counsel and is now with the RNLA, describes the degree of difficulty in an e-mail to me:

Ed,

I worked on getting McCain on the ballot in Indiana for the 2008 primary. I can tell you there it will be very very difficult to get this done in a few days. It took considerable resources for the campaign to get on the ballot there and we allocated a few months to do it. Even with having three full time staffers on it for several weeks, we barely made it. The signatures also need to be filed in each county’s election board of elections offices. Those are closed today. I don’t even know if they have the ability to get the hard copies of the petitions due to the holiday.

In other words, it will probably require Ellsworth (or anyone else) to use the caucus process.  Messy, messy, messy, as anyone who has worked in the caucus process can attest.