Thursday, March 09, 2006

Evan Bayh's Spring
(Or, The Sense God Gave Geese)

Evan Bayh's Spring (Or, The Sense God Gave Geese)

for Howey Political Report March 9, 2006

Washington's famed Cherry Blossom Festival is more than two weeks away, but, after the successes of the past several days, one might forgive Sen. Evan Bayh and staff if they feel like celebrating spring early.

Indiana's former governor addressed one of the most eminent venues in modern politics, earned widespread press coverage for proposals on energy and the Dubai ports deal, and, just for sauce, received an endorsement from Rolling Stone magazine.

American Israeli PAC

On Monday night the junior senator was well-received as a featured speaker at the national conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Among the 5,000 in attendance were the most familiar names in national politics, including more than half the Senate and 125 representatives.

It may have been a dreary winter night outside, but nary a chill penetrated the tight security inside the Convention Center as the crowd warmed to dinner and drinks within an expansive hall illuminated by wall-sized TV screens and 30-foot renderings of Israeli and American flags. A quiet overtook the room when the first speaker was introduced, the Honorable Susan Collins, Republican senator from Maine, who elicited brief episodes of applause during an over-lengthy address, but the excitement of the evening had begun to wane by the time Sen. Evan Bayh took the stage. "I look around the room this evening and I know I am with a roomful of friends," he said in that same voice familiar to most Hoosiers. About seven minutes in he earned a 20-second ovation with this statement:

"Until Hamas recognizes the right of Israel to exist, until it renounces the use of terror not only in word but in deed, until it recognizes the agreements that have already been struck on behalf of the Palestinian people, it should receive not one penny, not one penny, from the United States of America."

Another seven minutes or so later he addressed Iran's nuclear ambitions with a promise of "not on our watch," which was followed by another 20 seconds of applause. Bayh then broached the subject of his energy bill, asserting that "the challenge of our generation" is to ensure the security and future of the U.S. by achieving energy independence.

The message struck a chord for many in the audience. Attorney Robert S. Persky of Jersey City admitted he was unfamiliar with Bayh prior to the evening but said he was impressed and asked how to contact the senator's campaign. Fifteen-year-old Barry Rosekind of California and his fellow students from Kehillan Jewish High School appreciated Bayh's "energy and charisma." North Chicago resident Ethel Fenig, acquainted with his record as Indiana's governor, said she admired Bayh's direct and forthright message.

Bayh has yet to be confused for a fiery orator at a time when the Democratic Party is in need of an old-fashioned revival. While Iowa pundit David Yepsen wrote in an otherwise laudatory column that Bayh is "a tad stiff and has a distinct charisma deficit" (Des Moines Register), HPR publisher Brian Howey has developed an appreciation for the senator's ability to work a room. Favorable reaction to the AIPAC event bodes well for the Bayh camp, but plenty of work lies ahead. Next Monday night he takes the show to College Park, Ga., to keynote the state Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

A Fractured GOP?

Other recent developments lend further momentum to Bayh's efforts to establish a presidential-grade political persona. There is growing unease among Republicans with President Bush, who is polling abysmally. As the March 3rd issue of the conservative Patriot Post newsletter stated, "Republicans have so demoralized their conservative base that even the most staunchly ideological conservatives are suggesting that a Democrat-controlled House may be necessary to remind Republicans why, precisely, we voted them into office."

America woke up yesterday morning to learn that top GOP lawmakers are planning to block a Dubai company from taking over operations of several U.S. ports, setting up a showdown with the White House (VOA). Sen. Bayh has criticized the process that approved the port sale (see HPR, Feb. 23), and several news stories cited his legislative proposal to give the Director of National Intelligence more power to nix such deals. Later yesterday, the Drudge Report linked to a story wherein participants at a discussion hosted by the Libertarian Cato Institute compared Bush with Nixon and labeled the president inept, vindictive and socialist (Washington Post).

Observers are turning their attention to the Republican Leadership Conference, which begins tomorrow in Memphis, where it may be seen just how far GOP frontrunners like John McCain or Bill Frist are willing to distance themselves from the president's policies.

Like A Rolling Stone

Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone magazine's National Affairs Daily wrote this on the Democrats and Iran: "If the Democrats had the sense God gave geese - and I have my doubts - they would lock the entire congressional caucus, as well as every prospective 2008 presidential candidate, in a room and not come out until they'd developed an aggressive, coherent, unified approach to dealing with Iran - preferably along the lines Indiana Senator Evan Bayh."


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