WASHINGTON (AP) — Two-term Sen. Evan Bayh says ever-shriller partisanship
and the frustrations of gridlock made it time for him to leave Congress.
Republicans aren’t buying it, saying he and fellow Democrats sense that
voters will be after their heads this fall.
The Indiana Democrat, a moderate who twice came close to being added to his
party’s national ticket, said Monday he will not seek re-election this
November. The announcement gives Republicans a strong chance of capturing
his seat and makes it likelier that the 59 votes that give Democrats command
of the 100-seat Senate will dwindle.
Bayh, 54, said his passion for helping people is “not highly valued in
Congress.” He said he did not love the institution in which his father,
Birch Bayh, had also represented Indiana.
“There’s just too much brain-dead partisanship,” Bayh said in a nationally
broadcast interview Tuesday. He said the public will continue to harbor
hostile feelings toward Congress “until we change this town.” He also said
that “the extremes of both parties have to be willing to accept
Bayh denied an interest in running for president in 2012 either as a
Democrat or independent. Asked on MSNBC if there were any chance he would
run, Bayh said, “None, whatsoever.”
But he also said the American people could deliver “a shock” to Congress by
voting many incumbents out if the institution doesn’t curb its divisiveness.
Bayh said voters could simply decide they want to vote out people they
believe are too partisan and said Congress should change its rules of
operation “so that sensible people can get the job done.”
Bayh’s disillusionment with the Senate came as no surprise to other
“The story line that people want is to say this was all about the bad
political environment,” said John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster. “But I
believe it’s about the bad quality of life” in the Senate caused by long
hours and constant bickering.
“It’s not like going to work every day, it’s like going to war,” Dave Nagle,
a Democratic political activist and former congressman from Iowa, said in an
interview. “You can only hear the bugle on the Hill so many times, then you
grow tired of it. It just isn’t worth it.”
Republicans saw a more partisan motivation in Bayh’s departure.
“The fact of the matter is Senator Evan Bayh and moderate Democrats across
the country are running for the hills because they sold out their
constituents and don’t want to face them at the ballot box,” Michael Steele,
chairman of the national Republican Party, said in a written statement.
GOP pollster Neil Newhouse saw Bayh’s decision through the prism of the
GOP’s startling capture of the Senate seat in Massachusetts that had been
held by the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.
“Don’t kid yourself. Scott Brown claims another victim,” Newhouse said of
Massachusetts’ new GOP senator. “It’s mostly Democrats seeing the
handwriting on the wall.”
Bayh joins a growing roster of recent Democratic retirees. Others include
Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and Sens. Christopher Dodd of
Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Yet the congressional casualty
list has a decidedly bipartisan flavor, with recent retirement announcements
coming from Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and GOP House members from
Michigan, Indiana, Arkansas and Arizona.
“Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you’ve probably had some very
nasty town hall meetings lately, and most normal human beings don’t enjoy
being yelled at,” said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at
Claremont-McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “Democrats stand to lose more
than Republicans because they’re the in party, but Republicans are catching
some of this too.”
Democrats have a 255-178 edge in the House, with two Democratic-held seats
The public has been upset by job losses, growing federal deficits and
spending, huge bonuses awarded to executives of bailed-out financial
institutions, and Washington’s yearlong preoccupation with health care. One
need look no further than recent polls to gauge the poisonous political
atmosphere facing members of Congress seeking re-election:
—In an Associated Press-GfK poll in mid-January, just 32 percent approved of
how Congress was handling its job, including just 4 percent strongly
approving, though Democrats got higher marks than Republicans. People were
split about evenly over whether they wanted their own members of Congress to
be re-elected, an unusually poor showing. And while nearly everyone named
the economy as the most important issue, just one in five considered the
economy in good shape.
—A CBS News/New York Times poll in early February found 81 percent saying
it’s time to elect new people to Congress. Just 8 percent said most members
Bayh’s departure sent deeper shock waves than most. Telegenic and considered
by some to have a promising national future, Bayh is known more for the
moderate tone of his politics than for any particular legislative
achievements. His parting words Monday had a notably plaintive tenor.
“To put it in words most Hoosiers can understand: I love working for the
people of Indiana, I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives,
but I do not love Congress,” Bayh said.