WASHINGTON-Democrats woke up to a shock Monday: Sen. Evan Bayh, heavily favored for reelection this year in Indiana, announced, with his wife and two young sons by his side, that he won't seek reelection.
"For some time I've had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should," said the two-term Democrat at a news conference in Indianapolis Monday. "There's much too much partisanship. The people's business is not getting done."
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., expressed a similar frustration with the "rancor" on Capitol Hill when he surprised Democrats by announcing his retirement last month. Dorgan is, like Bayh, a moderate Democrat.
"There are better way to serve my fellow citizens than continued service in Congress," said Bayh, adding that he was still confident he could have won reelection. Boiled down, he said, "I do not love Congress."
Bayh sought his party's nomination for president in 2008 and was on the short list to become Barack Obama's vice presidential running mate. The 54-year-old Indiana native has not lost a political race since he entered public life in 1986 as the state's youngest secretary of state. Two years later he won the race to become the Indiana's governor. In 1998 he won his first term as U.S. senator, replacing Republican Dan Coats, who retired. Coats recently came out of retirement to challenge Bayh this year. (See "Running scared," Feb. 11, 2010.) Two other Republicans are vying for the nomination: former U.S. Rep. John Hostettler and state Sen. Marlin Stutzman.
With Bayh stepping aside, the historically red state now likely will vote a Republican into office, meaning that the GOP primary campaign will become fiercer. And Bayh's announcement comes on the eve of the filing deadline for Democratic candidates, which includes a requirement to get 500 signatures from each of the state's districts-which is unlikely to happen. The state party leadership, in that case, can name someone as a write-in candidate. Democrats are buzzing about the prospects of U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, a Blue Dog Democrat who opposes gun control and is pro-life.
"I can't believe I'm saying this but I really think Republicans have a chance to win back the Senate this fall now," wrote Tom Jensen, a pollster with the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling, on the heels of the announcement.
That may be a long shot, but Democrats are in a tenuous position. The balance in the Senate is currently 59 Democrats and 41 Republicans, and Republicans are hopeful about taking Democratic Senate seats in North Dakota, Nevada, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, and Delaware.
Republican senators are retiring in Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Ohio, but those seats are mostly expected to remain in GOP hands.