When Evan Bayh decided not to seek re-election this year almost at the last minute, speculation held that the two-term Senator and former Governor had grown tired of life as a legislator and wanted to go back to executive office. Mitch Daniels can’t seek a third term in Indiana, and the timing seemed perfect for either a 2012 run at Bayh’s old office or a national run at a higher executive office against an incumbent of his own party. Over the weekend, Bayh ruled out the former:
Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh has decided against a run for governor in 2012, robbing Democrats of their top recruit in the Hoosier State.
“After careful consideration, I have concluded that the appropriate decision is not to be a candidate for governor of Indiana in 2012,” Bayh said in a statement released to the Fix. “”The principle reason for my decision is the welfare of my twin sons.” …
Bayh, who will turn 55 on the day after Christmas, will leave the Senate at the end of the year after two terms defined, in large part, by his never-realized ambitions on the national stage.
Bayh was a finalist in the vice presidential sweepstakes in 2004 and 2008 but was passed over both times. He weighed a run for president in his own right in the 2008 cycle but backed away in December of 2006.
Bayh’s retirement from the Senate in February shocked even the most seasoned political observers and turned his seat from an open certain Democratic hold into a major Republican target.
The “certain Democratic hold” seems a little presumptuous. Had Bayh run for re-election, Mike Pence might have been more tempted to aim for the seat to capture it for the GOP. The easy election of former Senator Dan Coats into his former position indicates that Bayh might not have had an easy ride, and that perhaps he was better served by a principled withdrawal than an Election Day defeat in a Tea Party wave.
At any rate, at 55, Bayh doesn’t seem ready to head into retirement, especially not the way he left Washington DC. He grew tired of his party’s tilt towards the hard Left and complained about the ongoing partisanship that brought the legislative process to a standstill, which sounded at the time like the launch of a national campaign of some sort. He could wait four more years to follow up on that start, but the natural process and immediacy of politics would make him an afterthought by 2016. And I doubt Bayh would be running for mayor, or suddenly desire to join the private sector after spending almost his entire adult life in public service.
Bayh could make a case for a primary challenge against Obama. The momentum right now for that appears to be mainly among progressives, but they lack a credible candidate. Bayh, on the other hand, could run on the basis of successful and competent executive experience, as well as the status of a Midwestern, Rust Belt Democrat who might win back the constituencies Obama obviously lost in the midterms. Democrats passed him over in the last two national cycles for lightweights like John Kerry, John Edwards, and Barack Obama, and those choices have come home to roost in an electorate clearly alienated from Democratic leadership.
If Bayh does run, he could force Obama back into the arms of progressives, which would result in a loss either in the primaries (a long shot) or in the general election. If that happened, Bayh’s primary run would put him in position to claim the nomination in a 2016 race, while his absence for four years would guarantee him little more than an occasional spot on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.