Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, stunned the political world Monday by announcing he will not seek re-election this year, leaving open a seat Republicans will have a good chance of winning and underscoring just how poisonous the atmosphere in Washington has become.
The moderate lawmaker becomes the third Democratic senator to give up his seat in the last couple of months, a move that is bound to ignite hopes among Republicans and fears among Democrats that the Senate could change hands in November’s elections. Currently Democrats have 57 seats, Republicans 41, with two independents allied with the majority.
Mr. Bayh said rampant partisanship has made Washington unworkable and is chasing him from Congress.
“To put it in words most people 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,” he said in confirming his plans in Indianapolis. “I will not, therefore, be a candidate for election to the Senate this November.”
Mr. Bayh, 54, served as governor before winning his Senate seat in 1998. He staked out a reputation as a moderate Democrat in a conservative state, and has adopted some tough positions, including forgoing earmarks over the years.
Among Republicans, former Sen. Dan Coats, has already said he was interested in running against Mr. Bayh, and former Rep. John Hostettler, a Republican, had already announced his own candidacy.
Democrats now must scramble to field a candidate and Mr. Bayh’s decision leaves them in a precarious position. Petitions are due Tuesday to qualify for the state’s May 4 primary.
One Democrat, Tamyra R. d’Ippolito, who says she’s running as “a citizen, not as a politician,” is trying to collect the signatures to get on the primary ballot. If no candidate qualifies, the state Democratic Party would choose a nominee.
Mr. Bayh said he is convinced he would have won re-election. His campaign already had nearly $13 million cash on hand in the latest finance report, and he reported excellent fundraising numbers in recent filing reports.
But Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said the Democrat was scared away from running for a third term.
“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 dont want to face them at the ballot box,” he said.
In his prepared remarks, Mr. Bayh points to bipartisan efforts that have foundered in the Senate in recent weeks, including the rejection of a commission to recommend ways of bringing down the country’s debt and a bipartisan jobs bill scuttled by Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid last week as two events the contributed to his frustration.
In a meeting between Senate Democrats and President Obama earlier this month, Mr. Bayh’s frustration showed through when he challenged the president to give Americans a reason to trust their party to lead on tough issues like balancing the budget.
“Speaking to independents, conservative Democrats, moderate Republicans — people who know we have to do this — why should the Democratic Party be trusted? And are we willing to make some of the tough decisions to actually head this country in a better direction?” he said.
Mr. Obama replied with a stinging attack on Republicans’ failures.
Mr. Bayh has always cut a unique figure on Capitol Hill, and has taken to wearing sneakers with his business suits. That drew a quip from the president at Senate Democrats’ issues conference, to which Mr. Bayh replied, “You’ve got to stay light on your feet around here, right?”