- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sen. Evan Bayh claims he’s frustrated with politics inside the Beltway, but the Indiana Democrat’s announcement that he isn’t running for re-election was the ultimate in cynical backroom political ploys. By disclosing his retirement just one day before the filing deadline, Mr. Bayh left no time for any Democrat to qualify for the primary ballot. With no Democrat in the race, it’s up to the party’s state central committee to tap its favored candidate. That isn’t a very democratic way for the Democratic party to operate.

This trick is a way to try to compensate for the huge advantage Republicans will enjoy in this year’s midterm elections. As the liberal Daily Kos reported, by waiting until the very last second, the Democratic senator prevented stronger Republican candidates - such as Rep. Mike Pence or Gov. Mitch Daniels - from getting on the ballot. With only a single day’s notice, it would be impossible for any potential candidate to get the necessary forms together and collect 500 signatures from each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts.

There also are internal party reasons for this Democratic strategy. Letting party officials pick the Democratic standard-bearer saves that candidate from spending money and fighting in a bruising primary battle. At least two Democratic congressmen were likely to give up their seats to run for the Senate. Empowering the central committee means no Democrats will have to vacate their offices needlessly, so the party won’t have as many seats to defend without an incumbent in the race.

Mr. Bayh’s bellyaching about “partisan gridlock” doesn’t pass the laugh test. Democrats have an 80-seat majority in the House and had a supermajority in the Senate until a few weeks ago. There has been no partisan gridlock because Republicans didn’t have enough power to jam up anything.

The simpler explanation is that Mr. Bayh was worried about losing. This will be a rough year for Democrats, especially in historically Republican states such as Indiana. The left-leaning fivethirtyeight blog ranked Mr. Bayh’s seat as the ninth-most-vulnerable seat out of 36 up this year. One way or another, Mr. Bayh was destined to be another casualty of Barack Obama’s unpopular presidency.