- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2016

Former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh’s entrance into Indiana’s U.S. Senate race has given Democrats fresh optimism that they can net the handful of seats needed to retake control of the Senate, with recent surveys showing Mr. Bayh in a position to win a race the GOP had considered safe just a few months ago.

An internal Democratic poll showed Mr. Bayh with a 58 percent-to-32 percent lead over GOP Rep. Todd C. Young, Howey Politics Indiana reported recently, while a poll commissioned by the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm released last month showed Mr. Bayh with a 54 percent-to-33 percent lead.

Mr. Young’s campaign dismissed the polling as Democratic numbers, and insisted the race is closer than those figures suggest.

“The negative campaign being run by Evan Bayh tells a different story,” said Young campaign manager Trevor Foughty. “Evan Bayh knows that casting the deciding vote for Obamacare, leaving Indiana to live in his Washington mansions and working as a corporate lobbyist and hedge fund adviser, makes him extremely vulnerable.”

Whatever the actual polling, Mr. Bayh, who held the seat for two terms before relinquishing it after the 2010 election, is well positioned to win in November, and that’s given Democrats more margin for error in winning the four or five seats they’ll need.

Republicans were already defending more than twice as many seats as Democrats this year before Mr. Bayh, a former senator and governor who was sitting on nearly $9.5 million at the start of July, jumped into the race last month and prompted political handicappers to move it from Republican-favored to tossup.

The GOP holds an effective 54-46 majority in the Senate. Indiana joins other Democratic pickup chances in Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania — and perhaps Arizona, Iowa and Missouri.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at an event in Kentucky Thursday that GOP prospects for holding onto Senate control are “very dicey,” listing the Indiana race among those he described as “very competitive.”

“I may or may not be calling the shots next year,” Mr. McConnell said, according to the AP.

Mr. Bayh’s campaign said he’s going to campaign hard no matter what.

“While it is telling that the Republicans haven’t released any data to contradict polls showing Evan with an advantage, we’re not taking anything for granted and will campaign like we’re 10 points down every day through Election Day,” said Bayh campaign spokesman Ben Ray.

The campaign released an ad this week in which the former senator touts breaking from his own party on the issue of electric rates, balancing the budget as governor and working with Republicans to try to balance the budget at the federal level.

“The bottom line? I don’t answer to party leaders or any president. I answer to the people of Indiana,” he says.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the political forecasting newsletter “Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” said Republicans hope Mr. Bayh’s large poll advantage right now is due to his name recognition — not only was he a senator and governor in the state, but his father was a U.S. senator as well — and, as time goes on, they can chip into his lead.

He also said Mr. Bayh is going to have to convince some Republicans to potentially split their tickets.

“Indiana probably will vote for Trump, so Bayh is going to need crossover support, potentially a lot, in order to win,” Mr. Kondik said.

Mr. Young’s campaign, meanwhile, hopes to highlight Mr. Bayh’s work as an adviser at a private equity firm and the fact that he became a partner at McGuireWoods, a powerful D.C. law firm, after leaving office.

“The more Hoosiers realize Evan Bayh has spent the last six years helping special interests get ahead in Washington, the more they trust a fellow Hoosier and Marine like Todd Young,” Mr. Foughty said.

Republicans’ hopes of winning a Democratic-held seat this year rest chiefly in Nevada, where Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is retiring. The GOP had eyed the Colorado seat held by Sen. Michael F. Bennet, a Democrat, but polling there gives Mr. Bennet a solid lead.

Republican candidates across the board are struggling with how to handle Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is in a tough re-election fight, now plans to write in former Secretary of State Colin Powell for president after saying earlier he’d support Mr. Trump if he became the GOP nominee.

Other incumbent senators like Rob Portman of Ohio, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire have all kept Mr. Trump at arm’s length to a certain extent, though Mr. Johnson did attend and speak at the Republican National Convention last month.

“I’m hoping that we can make this election about Hillary Clinton. I think if we do, we can win,” Mr. McConnell said Thursday.

Recent polling has shown Mr. Portman retaining an edge in Ohio, while surveys on the Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire races have shown Democratic candidates running ahead or about even with Republicans.

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