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

February 15, 2010 |  9:46 am

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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