- The Washington Times - Monday, July 11, 2016

Democratic leaders pulled off a major coup Monday in Indiana’s Senate race, paving the way for former Sen. Evan Bayh to jump in the race by easing out former Rep. Baron Hill as they try to increase their pick-up opportunities and take back control of the upper chamber.

Mr. Bayh’s apparent entry into the race provides Democrats with a big-name contender to take on Rep. Todd Young in the campaign to replace Republican Sen. Dan Coats, who is retiring.

Mr. Bayh did not formally declare his candidacy Monday, but said in a statement he spoke with Mr. Hill and that the two men agreed that “we must send leaders to Washington who will put Hoosiers’ interests ahead of any one political party.”

“Baron Hill has always put Indiana first, and has been focused on setting aside party differences to strengthen our state and country,” Mr. Bayh said in the statement, according to the AP. “I share this commitment, and agree with him that the stakes have never been higher.”

Without naming Mr. Bayh, Mr. Hill said as he dropped out that Democrats have a very real chance at winning this Senate seat, “especially with a strong nominee who has the money, name identification and resources to win.”

“I do not want to stand in the way of Democrats winning Indiana and the U.S. Senate,” he said. “That would not be fair to my party or my state. And, the stakes are far too high in this election not to put my country above my own political ambitions.”

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Even ahead of a formal declaration from Mr. Bayh, prognosticators were already moving to re-evaluate the race, with both Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report saying Mr. Bayh’s entry moves the race from a likely GOP hold to a toss-up.

The Rothenberg-Gonzales Political Report also moved the race from “Republican favored” to “Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic.”

“It upends the race completely,” said Joseph Losco, co-director of the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. “It certainly makes this much more competitive. Bayh is a name that resonates throughout the state.”

Mr. Bayh was both a two-term senator and a two-term governor in Indiana, while his father, Birch Bayh, was a three-term U.S. senator who unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Democrats are also eyeing seats in New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin, while Republicans have just one obvious target, in Nevada, where Sen. Harry Reid is retiring.

Republicans hold an effective 54-46 majority in the Senate but are defending more than twice as many seats as Democrats are this year, and the Indiana race had largely been considered safe before Monday’s news.

The GOP, meanwhile, quickly tried to paint Mr. Bayh as a retread who sought to cash in on his political experience after he retired, with Mr. Coats deriding the development as an “arranged entrance” into the race.

Evan Bayh is a lobbyist who backed the Obama agenda 96 percent of the time as he left the Senate in 2010, knowing he couldn’t win re-election thanks to his support for the toxic Democrat agenda,” said Ward Baker, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

But even if Mr. Bayh’s name recognition isn’t enough to overcome the Republican lean of the state, his candidacy could at least force the GOP to spend money it might have directed to help out vulnerable incumbents in other states.

The “Evan Bayh Committee” was still sitting on nearly $9.3 million in cash on hand at the end of March, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission.

Mr. Bayh was widely considered to be a possible vice presidential pick for President Obama in 2008, but he fell out of favor with many Democrats after he announced in February 2010 he would not seek re-election that year.

That announcement came just before candidates would have had to submit petitions in order to run in a would-be primary. The party eventually tapped Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who went on to lose to Mr. Coats by about 15 points.

“I love working for the people of Indiana. I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives,” Mr. Bayh said in his retirement announcement in February 2010. “But I do not love Congress.”

Mr. Bayh also went to work as an adviser for a New York-based private equity firm and became a partner at McGuireWoods, a powerful D.C. law firm, after his time in office, giving Republicans an opportunity to paint him as a member of an illicit revolving door of politics and big business.

“Clearly, he’s going to be branded as a quitter,” Mr. Losco said. “He’s going to have to explain, in very much detail, why he left the Senate in the first place … what he can bring to the Senate this time that he couldn’t last time.”

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