Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Moderate In Partisan Times

A Moderate In Partisan Times

For the Howey Political Report May 25, 2006

"Greatness does not happen by accident. It is earned, it is made, it is created by those who have the strength to make it happen, and so must we."

That's what Sen. Evan Bayh said during commencement ceremonies at DePauw University last Sunday. Standing beneath a wide blue sky on a gorgeous Indiana afternoon, addressing the large crowd come to see the 607 students in the Class of 2006 graduate, he offered this explanation for America's greatness.

"What makes America special, for more than 10 generations, is that each generation has been willing to meet the challenges of its time, the sacrifices, the tough decisions, the hard going," he said in the gentle voice and style familiar to many Hoosiers. "That’s what happened in Concord, that’s what happened in Gettysburg, that’s what happened on the cliffs of Normandy, that’s what has always happened to make America great. Now it’s our time to give that idea, that promise a renewed sense of vitality and a reality in the context of our own times."

It was an inspired turn of phrase and the kind one would hope to hear at just such an event, conveying ideas one might expect from a politician with lots of practice at public speaking. Perhaps more importantly, the words were tempered with the same sense of conviction and encouragement that Bayh has delivered on the stump all over the country in his effort to be a contender in the 2008 presidential election.

Earlier in the weekend the senator was in Iowa to attend fundraiser events for local candidates. Bayh has already begun to invest time, money and manpower in Iowa in hopes of building support before the caucuses which could make or break his candidacy. Writing for MSNBC, Tom Curry (no relation) noted "the Indiana senator's mellow demeanor, folksy Midwestern charm and credentials as a governor and U.S. senator gave Bayh threshold credibility with most of the rank-and-file democrats he met." The senator is building credibility wherever he goes these days. On Monday, Rob Harrington, who writes the blog "Confessions of a Hoosier Democrat," cited six bloggers ranging from Iowa to Georgia who reported they were surprised to come away with a favorable first impression after hearing Bayh for the first time.

But not all who hear Sen. Bayh are convinced or encouraged. According to MSNBC's Curry, the senator's vote in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq troubled some of Iowa's democrats, including one woman who was unhappy with his response to her questions. As Curry wrote, "With exasperation in her voice, she said, 'I wanted him to say to say we were leaving Iraq tomorrow. At this point, I don’t care if there is a civil war in Iraq, because there already is a civil war.'"

Hoosier Joshua Claybourn of the blog In The Agora wrote this week that he, too, walked away less than satisfied after meeting with Bayh. Claybourn said he was disappointed in Bayh's less-than-specific answer to a very specific question offered during an event designed to promote the senator among Indiana bloggers, leading the writer to complain that "With Bayh the only ideology appears to be a lack of ideology."

"In my mind this is Bayh's biggest hurdle, and indeed the challenge facing the national Democratic party," Clayburn later wrote. "Americans are disillusioned with Bush's leadership, but unsure about their alternative. That attitude will get Democrats a few more House seats and perhaps even a president in '08. But it won't inspire a lasting movement. That is Bayh's challenge."

Winning converts as a moderate in partisan times is no easy task. The Spring 2006 issue of the UVA (University of Virginia) Lawyer included a friendly yet thoughtful article on alumnus Evan Bayh, who earned his law degree in 1981. Author Cullen Couch said it best: " won't be easy for a moderate to finesse a primary system where third-party interest groups funded by the most zealous partisans of both sides build huge war chests to drive wedge issues for short-term political gain."

"The center of the common ground has been eroded by politics," Bayh told Couch, "and the irony is that I find a thirst on the part of the American people for more consensus, for greater reconciliation of differences. I don’t think the political process is representing their desires as well as it needs to."

The pressure to compromise must have been striking for Sen. Bayh this week as the Senate Intelligence Committee deliberated President Bush's nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden to be CIA director, but on Tuesday he voted against the confirmation which passed 12-3.

"My vote against confirming General Hayden was not based upon any objection to the man – he is an outstanding person and a patriot," Bayh said in a statement (see HPR Daily Wire, May 24). "Nor was my vote in opposition to aggressive surveillance of terror suspects. I support such activities. My vote was an objection to the Administration’s unwillingness to ensure both our physical security and our civil liberties."

As might be expected, the nuance articulated by the senator was quickly lost in the ensuing media frenzy. Katherine Shrader of the Associated Press failed to mention the reasoning behind Bayh's stance but found room to include a quote from Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, the current darling of the net roots left. The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto also omitted Bayh's statement but gleefully criticized the vote in the widely circulated "Best of the Web Today" email newsletter under the heading "Buh-Bayh, Moderation."

"This is further evidence that every Democrat in the field is trying to position himself as the left-wing alternative to Hillary Clinton," Taranto wrote.

As proof that Bayh's ideas resonate with many pundits, consider the May 22 column by the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl, who stated that "a coalition of mostly younger foreign affairs professionals...who have spent the past several years formulating a distinctly Democratic response to the post-Sept. 11 era....are beginning to gravitate toward some of the centrist Democrats who...might actually emerge as serious presidential candidates in 2008," including Evan Bayh.

At least people are hearing what Bayh has to say, even if they don't always agree. Building a consensus is difficult, and even more so among today's deeply divided electorate, but, as the senator told DePauw graduates last Sunday, "America is at its best and at its strongest not when we are divided, but when we are a one people with a common heritage and a common destiny.

"This country has always been a crucible in which we take our differences and instead find common ground."

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Where the votes are: Bayh courts the center

Where the votes are: Bayh courts the center

For Howey Political Report May 18, 2006

It's the sort of scenario that must be driving democrats crazy these days: A group of Cub Scout parents are waiting for a den meeting to end at a Catholic church in a firmly Democratic enclave of suburban Maryland.

"So, you still happy you voted for President Bush?" one asks with a tinge of "I told you so" in his voice.

Over the next 10 minutes the five moms and dads nod in agreement as each cites reasons behind a growing discontent with both the administration and the Republican Party. Cracking down on illegals will hurt the construction business and tank the economy, says the head of a multi-million dollar design/build firm. Energy prices are killing the family budget, explains the mom who home schools her two boys. Another is worried the war on terror might lead to an irreversible loss of civil liberties, and all signal their fears about prospects in Iraq.

Voters dissatisfied

The general sense points to a group of moderate voters representing both parties who are convinced little if any progress is being made on serious challenges facing the country. These same voters also make it a point to accuse the democrats of failing to muster a unified, much less viable, opposition. Each voices a familiar litany of criticisms - the party is too fractured, the fringe is too noisy, Hillary doesn't have a chance, they don't have any good ideas, and so on.

"There are plenty of good Democrats with good ideas who aren't Hillary Clinton," interjects one dad. "Mark Warner and Evan Bayh are two you just don't seem to hear much about."

But - and this is the maddening part - it quickly becomes clear the others aren't interested in learning the substance of those "good ideas" as the conversation moves to a discussion of plans for this summer's family campout.

Quite the opposite is true of voters on either side of center. Leaders on the left and right have no trouble identifying solutions that motivate their bases around the sort of issues you can number using a few fingers. Just yesterday Indiana Rep. Mike Pence told a group of conservative bloggers that if Republicans are to have a chance in the midterms they need focus on a mere three issues: Limited government, fiscal discipline and rule of law (Human Events). A quick visit to the Daily Kos website reveals the gist of the far left's agenda: Rid the world of one George W. Bush.

A near impossible task

Politicians who court the center - like Sen. Evan Bayh - face the near impossible task of crafting a message that appeals to a wide range of moderates, a group that by definition represents a multitude of views concerning any number of issues. As noted on Wikipedia, "Some political moderates are 'bi-polar' in the sense that they side with right-wingers on certain classes of issues, but with left-wingers on others, rather than consistently staking out intermediate positions across the board."

If it's difficult to get the attention of a moderate, it's even harder to get them to listen. Fiscal conservatives are naturally attracted to Rep. Pence's fiscal and constitutional conservatism, while politicians like Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) or Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) rally left-wing liberals by voicing opposition to the Iraq war. But it's not so easy to rally moderate voters who often are influenced by multiple and sometimes competing messages and issues before solidly, if ever, identifying with a candidate.

So why should a politician expend considerable amounts of time and money to establish a broad-based reputation among moderates, when it would be easier and initially less expensive to claim the high ground on just one or two issues among voters more closely aligned with an ideology? Because that is where the votes are. In the 2004 presidential election, network exit polls indicated voters most often considered themselves to be moderates (45%) before conservatives (34%) and liberals (21%) (CNN). As Sen. Bayh reportedly has said, "Do the math."

Overcoming the challenges

It appears Sen. Bayh employs a multi-prong strategy to overcome the challenges he faces in the struggle to be considered a leading presidential contender: Create name recognition; articulate for the record substantial positions on key issues; introduce hallmark legislation and work for its passage; woo Democratic donors; build relationships with influential party members and candidates; and, reach out to a range of Democratic, independent and Republican voters who might by election day be persuaded to align themselves with a Bayh presidential ticket.

As noted time and again by HPR, he has laid considerable groundwork for the cause. No other candidate to date has spent as much time speaking at state Jefferson-Jackson dinners, meeting with potential donors, fund raising for Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire, and influencing the national party agenda, all while tirelessly working to further solidify his credentials as a lawmaker. As evidence consider his schedule over the next several days. Tomorrow he flies to Iowa where he is slated to speak at the Polk County Spring Fundraiser in Des Moines and on Saturday at a fund raiser for local candidates in Osceola, Council Bluffs and Sioux City. On Sunday he returns to Indiana to offer the commencement address at DePauw University in Greencastle, which will be aired at a later date on CSPAN. On Monday morning Bayh visits the Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol garages at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway "to promote ethanol use as a key provision in [his] energy plan."

Seeding the field

Last weekend he was in town to speak at the Indiana J-J and to address the 100-plus participants in Camp Bayh, a three-day event at IUPUI to train present and future political professionals and candidates in "the nuts and bolts of organizing campaigns." As a participant, this reporter found the camp to be highly informative on the basics of campaigning and was most impressed with his plan to seed a select group of 50 graduates among key state and congressional races throughout the country.

These efforts have been recognized by many and disregarded by some both in and out of the party. Analyst Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report wrote last week that Bayh has "a great shot" if "Democrats are feeling pragmatic." On the other hand is John W. Mashek of U.S. News & World Report who, while stipulating the difficulty of winnowing the Democratic field, leaves Sen. Bayh out of the list of contenders.

So far it looks like the 2008 presidential race will be unlike any other in recent memory. Perhaps Evan Bayh's dedication and work ethic and his innovative strategy and targeted tactics will succeed in securing him a place on the ballot. Only time will tell.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Another busy week for Sen. Evan Bayh

Another busy week for Sen. Evan Bayh

For Howey Political Report May 4, 2006

It's been another busy week for Sen. Evan Bayh. The two-term senator has been in and out of the spotlight in both local and national venues ranging from the Linton Daily Citizen and the University of Virginia's Cavalier Daily to MSNBC and the Drudge Report.

A Drive Across The Street?

On April 28, the 7,500 subscribers to Linton's newspaper were treated to a short item about Bayh in a column by the assignments editor. Nick Schneider commented on a story reported by the Washington Post April 26 which poked fun at a bevy of the nation's Senators who have bemoaned rising oil prices yet were seen using gas-guzzling SUVs to "drive across the street."

"What the senators were driving showed a bit of insincerity and double-standardness that tells me that the problem [of high gas prices] won't be solved any time soon," wrote Schneider, who went on to note that Bayh was seen entering a 14-mpg Dodge Durango V8 presumably for the quick trip back to his office, which is located across the street in the Russell Building. On April 30, after dozens of news outlets across the country reported on the Post story, including the HPR Daily Wire and others in Indiana, the senator's office told the Indianapolis Star that "Sen. Evan Bayh does not get picked up at the Capitol for the drive across the street to his Senate office, as the Post reported...'so he must have been going to a meeting or other event.'"

Sen. Bayh's staff was undoubtedly more pleased with the content of an opinion article entitled "A winning duo for 2008" published in the April 28 issue of The Cavalier Daily. Josh Levy, an opinion columnist for the University of Virginia's student newspaper, looked into a crystal ball to learn who the Democrats will run for president in the 2008 election and saw a ticket headed by Evan Bayh with former Virginia Governor Mark Warner as veep. "Bayh will be able to appeal to many across party lines with his record of reining in government spending," Levy wrote.

'Call Me Cynical'

Yesterday, the MSNBC website ran an article written by Howard Fineman of Newsweek that recounted a recent lunch with political consultant and Democrat James Carville. The name of a certain former Indiana governor came up during the course of the meal.

"I don’t think Mark Warner is catching on out there, but Evan Bayh is raising a surprising amount of money," Carville said. Fineman commented:

"Call me cynical, but this would indicate to me that Carville is more worried about Warner - a former governor of Virginia, with $200 million of his own money - than he is about Sen. Bayh, the carefully decent but determinedly uncharismatic centrist from Indiana."

The Indiana senator's effort to garner name recognition was boosted considerably shortly after noon on Tuesday when the Drudge Report, which claims more than 11 million hits a day, posted a link that read "Dem '08 Hopeful Bayh: Electoral College Should Be Eliminated..." The link, which remained on Drudge for several hours, transported the reader to the pages of the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer and the gist of an interview with Bayh dated May 1.

Electoral College 'Not Appropriate'

Staff Writer Rob Christensen was assigned to interview Bayh who was in Raleigh last weekend to speak at the state Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner. The interview included questions about Democratic prospects in 2008, the war in Iraq, and jogging with North Carolina favorite son John Edwards. Further into the interview the reporter asked "Why do you think we should abolish the Electoral College?" Bayh's reply:

"I think our president should be chosen by the majority of the American people. That is ordinarily the case. But in 2000, as we all recall, we elected this president with fewer votes than the other candidate got. I just don't think in the modern era that is appropriate."

Taking Care Of Business

Bayh's office distributed four press releases in the last week:

• Bayh Continues Fight to End Patriot Penalty: Senator introduces amendment to expand eligibility for Patriot Penalty relief (April 27)

• Bayh to Introduce Legislation to Fully Fund U.S. Special Operations Command Intelligence Collection Capabilities and Personnel Needs: As part of tough and smart national security plan, Senator says America must maintain intelligence edge (April 28)

• Bayh Offers Senate Resolution to Lower Foreign Trade Barriers on U.S. Goods: Senator says high tariffs create unfair playing field, hurting U.S. workers and manufacturers (May 2)

• Bayh Pushes to Close Tax Gap: Senator says closing tax gap is first step to reducing deficit (Bayh is urging an increase in funding for IRS tax enforcement activities) (May 2)

Just before noon today he was slated to join Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) at a press conference to outline legislation they are introducing, the Enhanced Energy Security Act of 2006, which "aims to reduce U.S. oil demand by increasing fuel efficiency, new technologies and related programs," according to a media advisory.

The senator will be in Indianapolis next weekend to appear at two events that are open to the press May 13.

Earlier in the day he will speak to participants at the first-ever "Camp Bayh," a three-day event at IUPUI to train future political professionals in "the nuts and bolts of organizing campaigns."

Later he will appear at the Indiana J-J dinner to hear Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D-TN) deliver the keynote speech.

Bayh is slated to present the DePauw University commencement address May 21.