Bayh, its Democratic senator, was a commanding figure in the state. In 2008, Obama went into the Indiana primary following painful losses in Ohio and Pennsylvania, losses that led many in the chattering class to wonder if he could ever win over the white beer-and-bowling crowd. But Obama came out of Indiana with a virtual draw, and more shockingly, he beat John McCain there in the fall—becoming the first Democrat to win the state in more than 40 years.
Obama’s general-election win in Indiana, along with his victories in North Carolina and Virginia, were central to his claim that he was transcending the red-blue divide, creating a new, less-polarized political map, an enduring Democratic majority of the kind that had been lost when Robert Kennedy was gunned down.
It’s this dream that, for the foreseeable future, Evan Bayh’s retirement likely forecloses. Republicans will probably take the seat, giving them both of the Hoosier State’s seats in the Senate, along with its gubernatorial mansion. Obama’s climate-change agenda is unpopular in Indiana and his health-care reform effort is not faring much better. If a conservative Democrat like Bayh fears he can’t win reelection in the state, it’s hard to imagine how Obama himself can win it again, absent a major shift in economic conditions.