SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Call it a coincidence, if you will, but longtime observers of Indiana politics found symbolic meaning in Evan Bayh's announcement not to seek another Senate term taking place on Presidents Day.
On the one day set aside each year to celebrate previous occupants of the White House, a political figure with more than a hankering for hearing "Hail to the Chief" played for him declared his separate peace from the electoral wars.
Bayh's decision hit with hurricane force in his snow-covered state because most Hoosiers can't imagine him on the political sidelines. He cut his teeth as the son of a popular U.S. senator, Birch Bayh, then won his first term as governor in 1988 at the age of 33. Another term as governor and 12 years in the Senate secured his place as (in the descriptive phrase of one Democratic insider) "the 800-pound gorilla in Indiana politics."
When Bayh concluded his eight years as governor he left behind a budget surplus of $1.6 billion and had an approval rating of 79 percent, according to an Indianapolis Star survey. In 1998, he won his first Senate race with 64 percent of the vote, followed six years later with 62 percent. Those numbers are even more impressive given the Republican orientation of so much of the Hoosier state.
Bayh's departure from the top of the 2010 ticket leaves his party floundering just 15 months after Barack Obama captured Indiana. Obama's victory for Democrats was the first on the presidential level since Lyndon Johnson's landslide in 1964.
Though some analysts viewed Bayh's decision as self-centered and selfish, his statement about the excessive partisanship of Congress put front and center the moderate's dilemma in Washington today. Partisan polarization makes the compromise Bayh champions as elusive as the higher offices he has kept seeking the past decade.
Before the 2008 campaign, Bayh took a sustained look at a presidential bid before deciding not to run, and in 2000, 2004 and 2008 he was short-listed as a potential vice-presidential running mate for Al Gore, John Kerry and Obama.
For someone who's never lost an election and who's only 54 now, speculation already abounds about his next political step. Republican Mitch Daniels is nearing the end of his two terms as governor, and it's possible Bayh will seek his old office in 2012. Winning it again would return him to an executive position, a more promising stepping stone (in the eyes of many) for a White House race in 2016.
Although there's already talk that he could mount a centrist-oriented independent campaign for the presidency in 2012, Bayh denied this possibility on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Tuesday. "I don't intend to start a third-party movement," he said during the interview.
But what's clear from Bayh's decision is that he sees continued Senate service as a political dead-end, akin to a civic hamster wheel. He departs with a war chest of $13 million -- and what he does with all that money will be fascinating to watch.
Republicans already have five candidates, including former Sen. Dan Coats and former Congressman John Hostettler, vying for the Senate nomination in Indiana's May primary, while Democrats scramble to find a credible opponent to head the statewide ballot this fall.
Bayh's Presidents' Day announcement might be interpreted as his declaration of independence from the Senate, but to call it his retirement swan song is a misnomer. He'll be back once he figures out another political route for his ambition.
Robert Schmuhl is Walter H. Annenberg-Edmund P. Joyce Chair of American Studies and Journalism at the University of Notre Dame, where he directs the John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.
We bring together premium publishers and marketers of all sizes (including 80% of the world's leading brands) into the world's largest and most vibrant content marketplace. Learn more about Outbrain ›
The global audience reached by Outbrain each month*
The total recommendations we serve consumers monthly
Of the world’s leading brands use Outbrain
* Audience reach according to comScore, September 2014. Leading brands via Ad Age DataCenter / Kantar Media, 2014.
We selected Outbrain not only because the revenues were higher than others, but because its engine drives better recommendations than others.
Senior Vice President, Group General Manager
It's less about buying traffic than it is about reaching the right people with relevant headlines to get them to your content.
EVP and Senior Partner
Our goal is always to deliver content that adds value to the conversations being held by the end user. Outbrain allows us to do just that.
Global Manager of Digital Marketing
The fact that we’re able to drive these kinds of transactions with consumers at scale and with increasing efficiency has made Outbrain paramount to our marketing strategy.
You cannot leave it to chance that someone will find and engage with your content. Outbrain can put your content in the midst of the world’s most prestigious publications.
Having links to our content appearing directly on premium publisher sites helped us establish our brand.
Outbrain is one of those [critical] components helping us deliver the right messages to the right contingent at massive scale and in real time to counter a crisis.
A GLOBAL FOOTPRINT OF SERVICE
We operate offices in 11 global territories and we partner with publishers and marketers in over 55 countries, including the U.S., UK, France, Brazil, India and Japan. Come join us ›
Our New Approach to Comments
In an effort to encourage the same level of civil dialogue among Politics Daily’s readers that we expect of our writers – a “civilogue,” to use the term coined by PD’s Jeffrey Weiss – we are requiring commenters to use their AOL or AIM screen names to submit a comment, and we are reading all comments before publishing them. Personal attacks (on writers, other readers, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, or anyone at all) and comments that are not productive additions to the conversation will not be published, period, to make room for a discussion among those with ideas to kick around. Please read our Help and Feedback section for more info.