Evan Bayh will retire from Senate

The Indiana Democrat will say Monday that he won't seek reelection -- giving the GOP a good shot at his seat

Published February 15, 2010 3:16PM (EST)

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., will announce later Monday that he won't seek reelection this year, handing Republicans a prime opportunity to pick up another Senate seat in a swing state.

Bayh, a moderate who has often infuriated progressives by insisting on frequent compromises with Republicans, was first elected in 1998. He nearly ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, but pulled out of the race in 2006 and later endorsed Hillary Clinton. Republicans had been targeting him in November, but a recent poll found Bayh comfortably ahead of two potential challengers, including former Sen. Dan Coats, the GOP establishment's choice for the race. Bayh had nearly $13 million in the bank at the end of the year.

So if Bayh isn't retiring to avoid a likely loss -- like Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, or North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, who both stepped aside earlier this year -- why is he quitting? Apparently, he just didn't have the stomach for all the partisan bickering in Washington anymore. "Two weeks ago, the Senate voted down a bipartisan commission to deal with one of the greatest threats facing our nation: our exploding deficits and debt. The measure would have passed, but seven members who had endorsed the idea instead voted 'no' for short-term political reasons," he says in remarks prepared for a Monday press conference, according to the Indianapolis Star. "Just last week, a major piece of legislation to create jobs -- the public's top priority -- fell apart amid complaints from both the left and right. All of this and much more has led me to believe that there are better ways to serve my fellow citizens, my beloved state and our nation than continued service in Congress."

That's all very typical Bayh. Part of the reason more liberal Democrats have often griped about Bayh is his insistence that partisanship does more harm than good. Which probably means that even though he won't have to stand for reelection again in November, Bayh isn't likely to suddenly start voting like a Bernie Sanders clone. (Especially because, with Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels term-limited in 2012, Bayh might well decide he wants to head back to the statehouse, where he served two terms as governor in the 1990s.)

But his decision to leave the Capitol probably means the GOP will have a very good chance of taking over the seat later this year. The filing deadline for November's election is this Friday (one source says Bayh's paperwork was all ready to go, underscoring how last-minute this decision must have been). Democrats will be able to name a candidate to replace Bayh later, but it's not entirely clear how that process will work right now. Possible candidates include Rep. Baron Hill or Rep. Brad Ellsworth -- both relatively conservative Democrats who have managed to win close elections in swing districts in the last few years.


By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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2010 Elections Evan Bayh D-ind.