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Zealous moderate

Politics | Indiana's Evan Bayh may be the perfect Clinton running mate

Issue: "Preach it," Oct. 6, 2007

A path may be clearing for Indiana Senator Evan Bayh to be nominated for vice president. He and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner were on a short list of moderates that Hillary Clinton might select as a running mate. Now Warner is running for the U.S. Senate seat opened by the retirement of Republican Sen. John Warner. Bayh endorsed Clinton for the presidency a few days after Warner announced his Senate plans.

With Clinton continuing to lead Barack Obama and John Edwards in polls and fundraising, Obama and Edwards also could split the activist left-wing voters that dominate the primaries.

Bayh, meanwhile, could reap the benefit from a career built on moderation and caution. Even being a white male might work in his favor. "Bayh would clearly be on anybody's short list," said University of Virginia Prof. Larry Sabato, who runs the Center for Politics. "Mark Warner was the major competition for Evan Bayh as far as moderate white males from red states are concerned. There aren't a lot of them."

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Bayh would bring several assets to the Clinton campaign. At a personal level, he is polite and charming. He's an articulate spokesman for fatherhood, writing a book on the subject and tackling the topic of discipline in Evan Bayh from Father to Son.

As Indiana governor, he promoted the fatherhood movement and offered other culturally conservative initiatives. He didn't serve liquor at the governor's mansion and reinstated Gideon Bibles in state park inns after an overzealous official thought they violated the First Amendment. In the Senate his first major legislative proposal was the Responsible Fatherhood Act.

Politically he rebuilt the Democratic Party from near death in Indiana, winning two terms as governor and capturing a Senate seat. As governor, Bayh took a stab at education reform but never put a definitive stamp on a particular policy or issue. He did avoid tax increases and built up a budget surplus. And he just won elections.

For Hillary Clinton, Bayh would bolster her attempts to move to the political center. He is stronger on national defense than most Democrats and talks in zealous terms about being a moderate. Indiana conservatives like to point out that he has a liberal voting record as a senator and only offers a moderate image, not substance. In terms of his Senate voting record, the American Conservative Union gives him a 16 out of 100 rating; the more liberal Americans for Democratic Action rankings put Bayh at an 85 percent ranking.

Bayh seldom talks about the personal faith in Christ that his mother spoke of before her early death to cancer in 1978. He only mentions the subject in recalling her death in his book. "In the months following her death, I kept a Bible beside my bed at law school and read a passage every night before going to sleep," he writes. "I kept looking for answers, but eventually I began to believe that there aren't any answers. I think you just have to hold onto your faith, trust in God, and accept the fact that some tragedies are simply beyond our understanding and control."

Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg of Vincennes thinks a Bayh vice presidential nomination would help Clinton as well as Democrats in Indiana-pointing out that he "is from southern Indiana," even though he grew up in Washington, D.C., while his father, Sen. Birch Bayh, represented the state. "He'll play well in the Midwest and the near South-Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia."

Notre Dame professor Robert Schmul adds that Bayh would balance Clinton's current New York home base geographically and ideologically. "If Evan Bayh would be on the national ticket, it would put Indiana into play for the Democrats," he said. "In recent years the American voters have turned to the statehouses for national leadership. Evan Bayh fits that bill, as a popular former governor."

Sabato is cautious about predicting either a Clinton victory or a Bayh veep nomination. "It looks good for her," he said. "But you never know what might break in early December or January. Lots of things can happen." If she keeps the lead she has now, however, look for a Clinton-Bayh ticket in 2008.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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