Thursday, July 13, 2006

Is Bayh the Anti-Hillary? Evan Bayh now considered a serious contender

Is Bayh the Anti-Hillary? Evan Bayh now considered a serious contender

For Howey Political Report July 13, 2006

For the fifth time in modern history a Hoosier is contemplating a run at the White House but this campaign just might be different: Evan Bayh could win his party's nomination.

True, Indiana's former governor is considered a long shot but so were Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton in 1974 and 1990. And, unlike the Hoosiers who went before, Bayh is deep into the game two-and-a-half years out. While his campaign does face daunting obstacles, the junior senator is well-positioned to mount a viable challenge to any seeking the Democratic nomination for the president in 2008.

"He's a credible U.S. senator, leader in his party, got a message, spending time on task, getting a good early start - those are all signs of candidacies that do well," Iowa pundit David Yepsen told HPR. Asked to compare Bayh's chances with that of another Hoosier senator who ran for the GOP nomination in 1996, the political columnist for the Des Moines Register said, "[Richard] Lugar got into this thing late, as I recall. That's far different than Sen. Bayh who has gotten in here very early."

Bayh is "spending time here, he's a Middle Westerner, and those are important assets that will help him connect with the political culture here," Yepsen said.

"He's not in the top tier now but many people who've done well in caucuses did not start out this far out. In the top tier right now it's Edwards, Hillary, Kerry and Vilsack."

Yepsen's comments will surely bring comfort to the Bayh camp. He may not be a kingmaker, but the columnist is widely read and respected in Iowa and beyond. During Lugar's 1996 run, HPR Publisher Brian Howey saw first hand what can happen when a candidate fails to make a good impression.

"It was the only time I've seen Sen. Lugar angry," Howey said. "I met up with Sen. Lugar in Muscatine and the senator was holding a copy of the Register, furious that this columnist, Yepsen, had said he didn't have a chance in Iowa or at the nomination."

Lugar failed to gain the traction necessary to become a contender. He garnered only four percent of the vote in Iowa and five percent in New Hampshire. Still he fared better than did Indiana's Sen. Vance Hartke (1972) and Vice President Dan Quayle (2000). The only other Hoosier to actually be considered to have any kind of shot at his party's nomination in modern times is none other than Birch Bayh, father of Evan. The elder Bayh finished second in Iowa and third in New Hampshire during the 1976 contests but eventually lost to the former governor of Georgia who became the nation's 39th president.

Jimmy Carter was the first politician to fully exploit the current election winnowing process that begins in Iowa and New Hampshire. Subsequent contenders have emulated his strategy. Bayh has made five visits to Iowa in the last 12 months, second only to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards with 10. Every nominee from both parties since 1976 has finished third or better in Iowa's caucuses.

If Evan Bayh is to best his father's performance he will have to overcome several obstacles. HPR asked Yepsen to describe the senator's weaknesses.

"He's flat," the columnist said. "That's the flip side of being a Midwesterner. There's not much fizz there. I think people looking at a president want to see a little more charisma than what he is showing.

"His second problem is a more serious one and that is that he's a centrist on defense and intelligence questions, and the caucus process is dominated by people who are pretty left of center. He may have some trouble with some party liberals.

Politicians who court the center face the near impossible task of appealing to a group that by definition represents a multitude of views concerning any number of issues (see HPR, May 18). But Yepsen said that doesn't necessarily make a Bayh victory impossible. Liberal voters will split their votes among other candidates, he said, adding "if you look at the history of the caucuses and who wins, it tends to be candidates more in the middle of their respective field. Carter had people on his left. Mondale had people on his left."

Bayh's deep and midwestern political roots should serve him well as he seeks to win over caucus goers. The political culture in Iowa is "virtually identical" to Indiana, Yepsen said. "If you look at the history of the caucuses you will see a midwest rural regional advantage to candidates."

Perhaps Bayh's greatest challenge is the New York politician considered by most to be the Democratic front-runner, Sen. Hillary Clinton. The former First Lady has yet to step foot in the Hawkeye State as a candidate but placed second in a recent Register survey of probable voters (see HPR, June 29). As noted by CNN Political Editor Mark Preston, Hillary has been "steering clear of Iowa, focusing instead on her Senate re-election. But when she takes her first step into the state the media wave will be gigantic."

While visiting Iowa last weekend, Bayh was asked how he felt about competing with Hillary. His response was aired during a segment on CNN's "The Situation Room" Monday night.

"Is it a little bit of a David versus Goliath situation? Yes, it probably is, but as I recall, David did okay," he said. Later in the broadcast he was asked, "Do you think she is polarizing?" For a split second the polished politician paused to ponder a response.

"I like Hillary," he said with a nod of his head. "I don't [think she is polarizing], but, you know, that's up to the people to decide."

One way voters decide is with their pocketbooks, and, judging by her bank account, Hillary has won many converts. As of March 31, according to, she had nearly $20 million cash on hand, leading all Democrats. Sen. John Kerry has nearly $13 million left over from his 2004 run at the presidency, followed by Bayh with an impressive $10 million. Bayh's fundraising success is a direct result of extraordinary effort - he has spent more time with donors than any other 2008 candidate (see HPR, April 20). The rest of the pack is far behind, but news accounts indicate former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who raised almost $2 million in the first quarter of this year, may be gaining fast.

The senator has enlisted a superstar cast of staff and consultants to serve his cause. In March, ABC News published "Invisibile Primary Ratings," referring "to the jockeying for supremacy in the contests to be positioned to be the major party presidential nominees between now and [the] start of the actual caucus and primary voting." Bayh ranked sixth overall among Democratic contenders but placed second in the staff and consultants category (behind Clinton). "Party pros and fundraisers often see a big staff or consulting hire as a coup signifying that a candidate is legitimate," the ABC website stated. "And of course, in theory, the work and advice of top operatives should be able to help a candidate win both the Invisible Primary and real nomination fight."

Reporting on the ABC rating, Maureen Groppe of the Indianapolis Star listed seven of the senator's key aides. These included:

• Tom Sugar, chief of staff, who served as Gov. Bayh's director of policy and planning before running the 1998 senatorial campaign;

• Linda Moore Forbes, deputy chief of staff;

• Marc Farinella, executive director of Bayh's leadership PAC, All America PAC;

• Dan Pfeiffer, communications director;

• Paul Maslin, pollster; and,

• Anita Dunn, media adviser.

• Also listed was Nancy Jacobsen, formally chief fundraiser but recently named a senior advisor.

• Iowa native Kory Mitchell was hired June 21 to be the new finance director.

• All America PAC announced July 2 that Thurgood Marshall, Jr., former Cabinet Secretary under President Bill Clinton, had been named a senior advisor.

• Other senior advisors include Ron Klain and Richard Gordon.

• Another key player on the Bayh team is Chris Hayler, Regional Political Director who will be moving to Iowa soon, according to Bayh's press secretary Meghan Keck.

• The senator's PAC also funds the salary of Sean Downey, finance chairman for the New Hampshire Senate Democratic Caucus.

"It's a marathon and we're on the second or third mile," Bayh told Dane Smith of the Minneapolis Star Tribune last week. So far, the senator's recruitment efforts, long hours on the road and careful planning and strategizing have earned him the respect of many pundits and long-time followers of politics, ranging from former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to Larry J. Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

Bayh "has assembled the foundation of a presidential campaign that's impressed strategists and left him positioned to open the nominating season with what many see as a realistic chance," according to Mike Glover of the Associated Press.

"While many see enormous hurdles facing Bayh in his bid for the Democratic nomination, he has touched many of the right buttons, reflecting the grassroots orientation of a Democrat who has won statewide election five times in one of the most Republican states in the nation," Glover wrote in an article dated July 7.

Although he has yet to formally announce, a Bayh campaign for the presidency appears to be a foregone conclusion. During a question and answer session at Camp Bayh in South Bend last weekend, the senator said "he is still deciding whether to run," according to AP Reporter Tom Coyne. "He said whether he can raise enough money to be a viable candidate will be part of the decision, but not the primary factor. He said he likely will make a decision over Thanksgiving."

"This is a pretty profound decision and I just need some time to sit and reflect," Bayh said.

But can he win? It's simply too early to know about Iowa, according to the Register's Yepsen, who has covered the state's politics since the election of 1974. As the columnist notes, all Bayh "needs to do is finish in the top three which would give him a bit of lift into New Hampshire or whatever caucus contest comes after Iowa."

"I can't answer your question with a definitive answer because it is so far away and caucus goers are sort of professional undecideds until the last night," Yepsen said. "If we have these caucuses in early January of 2008, within the last couple weeks of the campaign you will see some wide swings.... you're talking about party activists here. These people follow politics and they understand it. They don't make commitments early. They want to see candidates in action. They want to watch them perform in various situations."

"The thing you gotta remember," he said, chuckling, "is any of us who have watched this game for a long time, you never get too predictive. I can remember being assigned to Jimmy Carter and we were dismissing him. Those that have been out here for a long time never get too dismissive of anybody's prospects."


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