- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 7, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If you want more evidence of how deep Democratic losses may be in the fall midterm elections, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh’s suddenly shaky bid for a third term is Exhibit A.

A few months ago, Mr. Bayh was considered a shoo-in for re-election in the Hoosier state. Now election handicappers have moved him from “safe” to endangered.

Within hours of former Sen. Dan Coats’ announcement Wednesday that he is considering challenging Mr. Bayh, the dynamics of the race changed dramatically. The conservative Republican’s “likely entry into the Indiana Senate race puts another seat into play,” said election forecaster Stuart Rothenberg. “Move from Currently Safe to Narrow Advantage for the Incumbent Party,” he wrote .

However, the senator’s “narrow advantage” may be precarious, according to recent polls that show growing disapproval of the two-term senator, who once had presidential ambitions.

Despite Mr. Bayh’s once carefully cultivated image as a party moderate, he has lurched left under the rhetorical spell of the Obama presidency and the pressures of the Senate’s liberal Democratic caucus.

He voted for the $2.5 trillion Obamacare bill despite strong opposition back home, where polls showed 60 percent opposition. He backed President Obama’s $800-billion-plus stimulus bill, which has failed to create the 3.5 million jobs Mr. Obama promised. He supported Mr. Obama’s unpopular move to remove terrorist prisoners from Guantanamo Bay and try them in civilian courts.

This was not the sensible, moderate Evan Bayh who once chaired the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council that declared war on the liberal wing of his party. He broke with his state’s right-of-center political traditions, and Indiana voters are breaking away from him.

A statewide Rasmussen poll of likely voters released Jan. 25 showed him trailing Rep. Mike Pence, the House Republican Conference chairman, by 44 percent to 47 percent. Mr. Pence, however, has decided to remain in his leadership post. A matchup with Republican former Rep. John Hostettler was a virtual dead heat.

More troubling, Rasmussen found that just 23 percent of likely Indiana voters had a “very favorable” impression of Mr. Bayh, while more than 40 percent had a very or somewhat unfavorable view or were unsure.

But the political wake-up call, apparently, didn’t hit him until Republican Scott Brown won Edward M. Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts with a campaign agenda of lower taxes, reduced spending and voting no on Obamacare.

Suddenly, Mr. Bayh was issuing fire-breathing denunciations of his party’s left wing, calling on Democrats to reset their agenda and backing away from some of his previous positions.

Democrats had pushed their agenda too far to the left, driving away independents and moderate voters, Mr. Bayh said. “Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Democratic party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country, that’s not going to work too well.”

The lesson to be learned from Massachusetts is that independents and middle-of-the-roaders “just don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems. That’s something that has to be corrected,” the shaken senator told ABC.

Now Mr. Bayh is attempting to rehabilitate himself politically, even to the point of trying to scrub his own leftist votes from his record. To wit, there he was on “Fox News Sunday” telling Chris Wallace that he no longer would support trying terrorists in federal courts.

Back in November, he voted with his Democratic colleagues against a bill that would have prohibited federal funds being used to prosecute anyone involved in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, in federal civilian courtrooms.

“No amount of political posturing can change the fact that Bayh voted for his party’s foolish attempt to try terrorist killers in American cities - a terribly misguided plan that was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in Scott Brown’s recent victory in Massachusetts,” the National Republican Senatorial Committee said in a campaign broadside this week.

A four-term congressman, former senator and former ambassador to Germany, Mr. Coats’ presumed entry into the race is another big recruiting victory for NRSC Chairman John Cornyn who has a lot more reasons to think that a bigger political wave is building against the Democrats and is rapidly expanding his list of potential upsets.

But Mr. Coats is starting late, has yet to get his fundraising going, and faces an incumbent with $13 million in the bank who has won many statewide races, including two terms as governor.

On the other hand, Mr. Bayh also has a long voting record that supported Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Mr. Obama, and that in the end may be more than enough to beat him.

Donald Lambro is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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