Rep. Mike Pence’s decision to speak at CPAC had some wondering whether he would attempt a run at the presidency from the House, a strategy that has only worked once — when James Garfield, the last of the log-cabin Presidents, got elected 130 years ago. It seems that Pence has a more realistic goal in mind. The third-ranking Republican in the House may try to unseat Evan Bayh this year, who seems very vulnerable after the Massachusetts political earthquake:
In the wake of winning MA, GOPers are looking to put 1 more state in play if they can convince House GOP Conference chair Mike Pence to run against Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN).
Pence and his aides will meet with top staffers at the NRSC tomorrow, several sources tell Hotline OnCall, where they will discuss a possible bid. The NRSC has polled IN, and their survey shows Pence in a competitive position, though he trails Bayh in initial matchups.
GOPers have failed to recruit a top-tier challenger against the popular 2-term incumbent, thanks largely to Bayh’s bankroll. He had $12.7M in the bank as of Sept. 30, and GOPers expect he would be able to raise many more millions before Election Day.
But Pence has a base, especially as the number 3 GOPer in the House, and top Senate strategists believe he would be able to raise the money to compete with Bayh. He also has the national ambition, and Senate strategists plan to point out those ambitions are difficult to achieve without a Senate seat.
In a sense, Bayh has the same kind of cachet in Indiana as the Kennedys do in Massachusetts, only on a smaller scale. His father Birch spent eighteen years in the Senate and established the household brand in Indiana. Bayh took a run at the presidency in 1976, further heightening his appeal – but that didn’t save him from Dan Quayle in 1980, who buried him and his liberal voting record in the Reagan landslide.
Unfortunately for the younger Bayh, those days appear to be coming around again. As I mentioned earlier, Bayh has insisted that he represents true moderation, but his vote for the ObamaCare bill makes him as vulnerable as his father was in 1980. At the same time, the midterms are very likely to be a national referendum on the Democratic agenda as a whole, which still contains the cap-and-trade bill that would devastate Indiana if it passes — with or without Bayh’s vote. Indiana voters have a tremendous incentive to strip Harry Reid (or whoever replaces him) of a vote in the caucus.
Until now, Bayh has been able to rely on two key facts to hold his seat: $12.7 million in the bank and no top-drawer challenger. The latter will change if Pence gets in the race, and the former may not do Bayh any good if the NRSC backs Pence’s play. Democrats outspent Scott Brown in the last week of the campaign on at least a 5-1 basis and still lost by five points in perhaps the bluest of blue states. A Pence run that targets Bayh’s acquiescence on ObamaCare and potential vote for cap-and-trade may generate an even bigger landslide in what is usually a center-right state anyway.
Update: I’m told by HA reader Garrett that John Hostettler, a Contract with America Republican in the House for six terms, has already thrown his hat in the ring for the GOP nomination in this race. That certainly complicates things, as both men should be pretty solid conservative challengers. Hostettler voted against the AUMF for Iraq in 2002, but that seems like an old issue; on everything else, he was solid.
Update II: National Journal’s article misidentified Bayh as R-IN; I’ve edited it for accuracy.