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Sen. Evan Bayh is retiring -- is partisan gridlock sparking an exodus?

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh
In a season of political shocks -- remember the furor in January when Democratic senators Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Christoper Dodd of Connecticut announced their retirements? -- this could be the biggest so far.

Sen. Evan Bayh is bowing out.  Even in a Washington made cynical by motive, the news stunned.

For one thing, the moderate Democrat from Indiana had a $13-million war chest, a huge number even by the jaded standards of contemporary politics. For another, the latest polls showed Bayh leading former Sen. Dan Coats by 20 points.

And it's not like he doesn't have a good track record. The 54-year-old Bayh has never lost an election, from his first win in 1986 as secretary of state, to his wins for governor in 1988 and 1992, to his election to the Senate in 1998 and 2004. With money and popularity, the two-term senator and son of Sen. Birch Bayh can be believed when he says the decision was not about winning the race.

"Even in the current challenging environment, I am confident in my prospects for reelection,” he said in remarks to be delivered Monday afternoon that were obtained by the Indianapolis Star.

So why the exit? Bayh says it's the excessive partisanship that makes it hard to do almost anything in Washington.

“After all these years, my passion for service to my fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so in Congress has waned,” he says. “But running for the sake of winning an election, just to remain in public office, is not good enough. ... I simply believe I can best contribute to society in another way: creating jobs by helping grow a business, helping guide an institution of higher learning or helping run a worthy charitable endeavor.”

So far, eight House Democrats and six Republicans are retiring this year-- many of them voluntarily giving up safe seats, such as Rhode Island Democrat Patrick Kennedy and California Democrat Diane Watson. In the Senate, while Chris Dodd's decision was likely born of a recognition that he could not win, Byron Dorgan's shocked insiders.

“This decision does not relate to any dissatisfaction that I have about serving in the Senate," Dorgan said. But alluding to the increasingly ugly partisan atmosphere that defines Washington politics and is fueling an anti-incumbent sentiment, he added. "I wish there was less rancor and more bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate these days."

Bayh echoed the sentiment Monday.

Once touted as a potential vice president for President Obama, who pledged to change the way Washington does business, Bayh said: "I am constantly reminded that if Washington, D.C., could be more like Indiana, Washington would be a better place."

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Sen. Evan Bayh. Credit: Alex Brandon / Associated Press

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Comments () | Archives (16)

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I predict Mr Bayh will challenge President Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2012. He will be Ted Kennedy to Obama's Carter.

Kennedy didn't pull it off, of course, but he didn't start so far in advance, and he ran to the left of Carter; Bayh will run to the right of Obama, i.e., more to the center.

Just another dem who no longer wants to be associated with the hopey/changey melt down.Look for Bayh to be a contestant against Obama in
the 2012 dem presidential nomination race.He never did get over Obama's
picking of incompetent and verbose Biden as no 2.Rumour has it that Bayh has
such a huge ego that he always reserves 2 hotel rooms even when traveling solo.

So, after years of creating the problem in Washington, you are now nobly decrying the "partisanship" in Washington? How about retiring during the unprecedented abuse of Judicial nominees by your party? How about the complete politization of the judicial nomination process by your heroes Kennedy and Schumer? How about, after making anything and everything useful for political fodder during the Bush years, you just now bemoan the lack of bipartisanhip and are retiring? You liar! You see a tsunami coming in November and want to get out of the way. You are such a fraud. History will condemn your left wing Marxist party.

Yep, Obama's a divider -- of Democrats. He's united the GOP more than anyone would have expected, but he's (and Harry and Nancy and Rahm) ripping his own party apart. God knows what Bayh heard in those private meetings, but I suspect it was stuff that would turn the stomach of a decent man.

Gridlock causes exodus……. This is beyond funny. I haven’t noticed high profile republicans not running this year.
Dems are scared…… and for the good reason. I despise Rush Limbo, but he had a point – they way current administration goes majority of Americans will agree with him soon, so he can retire. And that is even scarier than “Universal Health Care”.

COUD it be, incumbents are TERRIFIED of our wrath? Don't forget, by 'retiring' they get to KEEP ALL THEIR RE-ELECTION MONEY = MILLIONS and MILLIONS of dollars... yes, TAX FREE! That is "FREE" SPEECH! Now don't forget to re-elect pelosi and Meg-a-NOTHING, who would be yet another incompetent, useless Schwartzenegger. You are WATCHING the Fall of California. (So RICHLY DESERVED!!!!)

No, it has nothing to do with "PARTISAN" anything. It has to do with the ridiculously disastrous, narcissistic agenda of Barhetoric Hussein Obull$hit and the fact that even those from HIS party are sick and tired of it!

This will never happen with the likes of Rush, Sean, and Sarah poisoning minds with hate for Obama and Democrats, in general. Oh well.

Whatever. You libbies who write this stuff are obviously ignoring the obvious: The only thing sparking these 'Crats departure this year is the fact they're going to get their tails voted out of office this November. "Gridlock" is a convenient term to cover up the fact that they have no chance of getting re-elected this fall for all the bills the 'Crats tried to ram through Congress without their constituents support.

Partisan gridlock. You're joking, right? Democrats enjoy a majority in the house and senate. They don't need Republicans at all, yet most of their agenda is stalled. When are the Democrats going to acknowledge Obama is taking them places they wish to go, but are too cowardly to follow.

If only more politicians followed Bayh's example. We need less of entrenched lifetime politicians to do the right thing and step down after a term or two. Bravo to Mr. Bayh.

He is obvoiusly frustarted more about his own party particularly fiscal discipline than just "grid lock". You chose to spin this story and not to print senator's this statement:

“Two weeks ago, the Senate voted down a bipartisan commission to deal with one of the greatest threats facing our nation: our exploding deficits and debt. The measure would have passed, but seven members who had endorsed the idea instead voted ‘no’ for short-term political reasons,” he said.

Rarely has a headline so poorly reflected the reality it purports to capture. The Democrats held both houses of Congress with majorities permitting them to pass whatever they wanted with zero Republican votes. They and the President elected to govern accordingly from well to the left. The electorate (especially independents, who had been told Obama would be a centrist) has reacted poorly. The "stimulus" has been an ineffective disaster whose real purpose was to prop up state governments and public employee unions while private sector employees were largely abandoned, at great cost in human misery.

All of this explains both the retirements and the poor prospects for many incumbents, especially Democrats. It's their own partisanship, not the lack of bipartisanship, that is the source of their difficulties.

So what happens to the 13 million he's raised? Does he give it back? If a donor asks for it, would he give it back voluntarily?

You call it gridlock when you can't pass your agenda. You want bi-partisanship in the current political climate, then get the government/mob out of healthcare. Separate healthcare from the state.

Great guide! Thanks. I used this throughout the entire season!


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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