Thursday, September 21, 2006

Will Bayh deliver Indiana in the midterms?

Will Bayh deliver Indiana in the midterms?

For Howey Political Report Sept. 21, 2006

Will Evan Bayh deliver Indiana in the midterms?

For years now Sen. Bayh has been traveling all across this great land promising to deliver Democratic victory in Red State America. That time has come.

Voters in Indiana's 2nd, 8th and 9th Congressional Districts are now high-value targets in the midterm battle over control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Polls indicate these three districts are teetering away from Republicans, who are struggling to maintain a 15-seat margin in Washington. HPR rates all three as "tossup."

Time and money factor mightily in any political scrape, more so in the close ones. Dollars are flooding in from out of state. Candidates, staff and volunteers are on the march. Party leaders are mustering the faithful and recruiting the undecideds. According to Jack Colwell of the South Bend Tribune, "Indiana has become the Florida or Ohio in this national election."

There are rumors of another presidential visit, and why not? The stakes are considerable. At the national level voters are worried about such issues as Iraq, terrorism, immigration and the economy. Put healthcare, state spending and education near the top of that list and you've also described Hoosier concerns going into the elections.

Candidates fighting for every ballot will look for all the help they can get. While Republicans have turned to the likes of the president, vice president and even Barbara Bush, many Democrats will seek the support of Sen. Bayh, one of the most popular politicians in the state. The junior senator has donated as much as $10,000 to several candidates as well as $25,000 to the state party, but it's his popularity with Hoosier voters that may prove to be his greatest asset in this election. A SurveyUSA poll conducted in early August found Bayh's fav/unfav rating at 57/36. The breakdown indicated he is especially popular with Democrats (71/26), independents (55/36), moderates (70/25) and liberals (58/35).

"He is in fact a popular figure," said Russell Hanson, a professor of political science at Indiana University in Bloomington. "In fact the 8th and 9th districts are close to his old home base in politics. He has connections. He has political appeal that if he was there in person, campaigning with that person, it would be to the advantage of a candidate, I should think."

Hanson pointed out that so far many Hoosiers haven't heard much from Bayh in terms of appearances or fundraising.

"From where I sit, which is in the 9th district, he's not been seen or heard in a way that would benefit the candidate," the professor said. "Maybe he's holding that back for later in the campaign. It is still fairly early for the campaign. It may be just a matter of timing, but we certainly have seen any number of high-level national figures come to Indiana to work with candidates here, and I have not seen Evan Bayh at any rate."

That's about to change. According to a first-hand account, Sen. Bayh told a group of New York Democrats earlier this week that he has set aside the month of October "to getting the Dem congressional candidates elected in Indiana...." (Dansac, Daily Kos). The senator's office isn't releasing any details but confirmed he plans to campaign for Indiana candidates in the state as election day approaches.

"He's offered to campaign with us and I expect that will be happening in the coming weeks," said Matt Weisman, a spokesman for Democrat Brad Ellsworth, who's hoping to unseat John Hostettler in the 8th CD. "We look forward to taking him up on that offer."

According to a WISH-TV poll released Sept. 19th, Ellsworth has a 44-40 margin over the incumbent. "This is the closest congressional race in the state," said reporter Jim Shella.

Weisman assured HPR that Bayh has long been supportive of his candidate.

"Evan Bayh has been very helpful financially both in terms of donating money and helping us raise money," he said. The senator's leadership PAC, All America PAC, has contributed $10,000. And the senator is not the only Bayh to support Ellsworth, Weisman said. Evan's father, the former Sen. Birch Bayh, "has been tremendously helpful. He's also offered to come and campaign with us and we look forward to taking him up on that offer as well."

The younger Bayh also supported Joe Donnelly's effort to unseat Chris Chocola in the 2nd CD with a $10,000 donation. As noted in yesterday's HPR Daily Wire, a South Bend Tribune/WSBT-TV poll taken over the weekend has Donnelly leading among likely voters 50-42.

"Sen. Bayh has been a tremendous help to us in the district," said Katie Nee, the Democrat's campaign manager. "We have worked out some events in the future but I don't know if they are in stone. They are not part of our public schedule yet. Bayh has offered to do quite a bit for our campaign and really a lot of things to support and elect Joe Donnelly." Bayh will deliver a Jefferson-Jackson Dinner speech Nov. 2 in South Bend.

He has also supplied paid staffing to four congressional races and a state contest through his Camp Bayh staffer program at a salary of $1,000 a month for three months. The senator trained and then placed workers in the 2nd, 3rd, 8th and 9th CDs as well as in the contest for Indiana's District 31 House seat. Lucas John Burkett of South Bend is working for Donnelly.

"He's been a great help to us," Nee said. "He's a field staffer. He does a lot of voter contact and reaching out to voters in our district."

Conversations with Bayh's office suggest similar plans are in the works for other hotly contested races, although this writer was unable to reach Baron Hill's 9th CD campaign or the Indiana Democratic Party for comment. (Hill is in a close battle with Rep. Mike Sodrel - a WISH-TV poll released Sept. 12th put the challenger ahead 46-40.)

"We'll send out scheduling information once the details are finalized closer to time," Meghan Keck, Bayh's press secretary, told HPR. "It's going to be exciting."

Yes, Indiana, it is going to be exciting. There's still time before persuadable voters begin to move out of the undecided column, but not much.

"People begin to make up their minds and then at some point in the campaign it will shift to simply a turn-out strategy," Hanson, the IU professor, said. "The interesting thing about the 8th and 9th district is that polls suggest there are a lot of people - on the order of 15 to 20 percent or more - who haven't made up their mind yet. You've got to come in early enough to shape that initial choice to be really successful in the end."

Bayh also has irons in the fire in key places like Iowa. This weekend he will be helping campaigns in New Hampshire, where he will speak at the Manchester City Democrats' "Countdown to Victory Dinner" and visit Rochester, Nashua and Salem. But observers within and far beyond the state's borders will be paying close attention to the caliber and impact of his efforts to help Indiana Democrats.

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, or the Kos of, recently wrote, "One reason I am blissfully unwilling to pick sides in the presidential race is that I want the candidates to prove that they can help build their local Democratic Parties and deliver Democratic victories beyond their own."

Winning Red State votes may be key to winning elections, but winning the support of outspoken Democrats like the Kos will enable Evan Bayh to gain traction toward a run at his party's presidential nomination in 2008. The results of this year's midterms in Indiana will provide more clues about his chances in that endeavor.


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