Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bayh carves niche in cyberspace, but will it matter?

Bayh carves niche in cyberspace, but will it matter?

For Howey Political Report Nov. 30, 2006

Two days ago, Democratic congressional candidate Barry Welsh woke up still owing $3,000 in campaign expenses accumulated during his failed bid to unseat Republican Mike Pence in Indiana's 6th CD.

By bedtime, the debt was gone, thanks to Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, caretaker of the liberal political blog site found at

"Barry Welsh ran a brave race in a tough district," Zuniga wrote in a brief plea posted online at 2:46 p.m. Tuesday. "Let’s help him retire that debt and get him prepped for his big rematch in 2008." The blogger contributed $1,000, and almost immediately donations began to roll in, mostly in virtual $10s and $20s, until the deficit was officially erased around 10:30 that night.

Welsh's experience demonstrates that the internet is playing an increasingly important function in grassroots politics, a role certain to be even more vital in the next election cycle, the 2008 presidential campaign.

Evan Bayh has ramped up his online presence in a much-publicized effort to carve a niche in cyberspace. In addition to the standard fare found on his official senate website, he has a page on that boasts 5,000 "friends" and recently launched a debate on His leadership PAC, All America PAC, is updated often, with links to websites touting the senator and the causes and candidates supported by the PAC. Bayh also has penned commentary for numerous blogs.

"The internet component is very important to our overall communication strategy," explained Dan Pfeiffer, the senator's communications director. "Americans are spending far less time using traditional forms of media and a far greater portion of their time online and any communications strategy must take this into account. The form in which you reach out to these voters must reflect this change as well and must be one that they are comfortable with."

The authors of a Nov. 6th analysis by the Pew Internet & American Life Project wrote, "Looking ahead, it's clear that the Internet's role in politics will continue evolving as the technology improves and users continuously adapt it for new purposes....But thus far, the most compelling narrative about the internet's political is not about candidates' skill with new media. Rather, it centers on stories from the grassroots: activists' use of email and Web sites; small donors' contributions online; bloggers' passion to tell stories and debate issues; and amateur videographers' quest to record 'gotcha' moments."

Zach Wendling is one Hoosier blogger who says he is skeptical of the netroots' influence. Wendling maintains the Indiana Blog Review, a website that monitors and highlights many of the state's most active blogs.

"The blogosphere has proven good at two things: being an echo chamber for candidates and for countering attacks," Wendling told HPR. "I have no doubt that if Bayh were on the ticket, the left side of the Hoosier blogosphere would join in, and the right side would perhaps be more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The big question, though, is whether blogs have any influence or whether they are just talking to each other."

Democrat Barry Welsh is convinced the netroots represent the future of politics.

"The netroots will be crucial especially in a national campaign," he said. "As an 'Indiana Boy' I would like to see Sen. Bayh as president.... I don't know if the senator, or if many in Indiana, understand the importance of the netroots, but that is the future of politics and will be even bigger in 2008 than in 2006."

A recent Pew poll found that nearly one in five American adults turned to the internet for news or information about politics and the midterm elections. It seems likely that someday, and it could be sooner rather than later, a politician will win by mastering the medium the way FDR perfected radio or Ronald Reagan exploited television. Only then will we know that the internet age in politics has truly arrived.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Helmke on Bayh: Democrats looking for a winner

Helmke on Bayh: Democrats looking for a winner

For Howey Political Report Nov. 16, 2006

Some time in the next several weeks Evan Bayh is expected to announce his intention to seek the Democratic nomination to be president of the United States. If so, Indiana's former governor will be tested as never before, according to Paul Helmke, the Republican who opposed Bayh's first senatorial run in 1998.

The former mayor of Fort Wayne told HPR that he expects a Bayh presidential bid to focus on the junior senator's moderate brand as well as his role in last week's defeat of Republican incumbents in three Hoosier congressional districts.

In the past 10 days the senator has used every opportunity to promote the Democratic victories in Indiana's U.S. House races as a template for turning other red states blue. Yesterday, nearly 20 reporters and camera crews from three major networks crowded for more than half an hour into the reception area of Bayh's Senate office. The gaggle was advertised as a "press availability" to meet with Bayh and Congressmen-elect Joe Donnelly (IN-2), Brad Ellsworth (IN-8) and Baron Hill (IN-9). Staged during a pause in the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearings on Iraq, the event also afforded reporters an opportunity to probe the senator's stance on the war. Today's New York Times reports Bayh advocated "moderation between the [Democratic] party's liberal and hawkish wings" in remarks during the hearing.

After 12 years at the helm of Indiana's second largest city, Helmke is well acquainted with the partisan forces that tug at a moderate politician. These days he serves as president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence headquartered in Washington.

"My hope is that we're entering a time period when folks are going to start asking what works, not just what fits the philosophy that someone bought into," he said in an interview with HPR. As evidence, Helmke noted that candidates supported by the Brady organization in last week's elections defeated those backed by the NRA in better than 80 percent of the 45 races where they went head-to-head. When asked if he thought the victories represented a tipping point, Helmke said. "I don't think we've tipped yet. I think it's a shift in momentum, clearly."

Republicans anticipate that a divided Democratic party will tilt noticeably left. "The primary mission of the Republican Party in the 110th Congress will be to defeat the agenda of the Democratic Party in Congress," Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN-6) wrote in a statement to fellow House Republicans after last Tuesday's losses. "Each of us must dedicate ourselves to using our talents and expertise to dismantle Democratic arguments and expose their liberal, big government agenda at every turn." Such pressure from the right, constantly pushing at the center, may well empower the Democratic left and weaken party moderates. HPR asked Helmke's take on what that might mean for Bayh's presidential prospects.

"The parties want to win," he said "I think one of the things they're going to look at is how best to win.... Evan's background both as governor and senator has been one to try and find what works. Obviously one of the strengths that a former governor brings to the job is that they've had to do that.

"In my new job I talk to a lot of people with a lot of money that are involved in politics and progressive causes around the country and I get asked a lot about Evan. His name is coming up and a lot of them that are Democrats seem to be looking for someone who can win."

Helmke provides a frank discussion of his senate race in a book co-authored with Andrew Jorash in 2001, Son of a Son of a Politician, which described his opponent as someone who's very good at self-control and accustomed to having things run smoothly for him. Helmke said he believes it is still true today.

"One of his strengths is that he doesn't get ruffled. He keeps his cool under pressure," he said of Bayh. "He doesn't get surprised."

But Helmke believes that sometimes Bayh displays too much polish and calm and not enough personality. "Sometimes if you over prepare, over out-think the thing, you come across as not having real emotions or real concerns there," he said. "My sense is he's worked on that. Some of the reports I've heard is that the speaking style, he has to work on that. You need to be able to connect with the voter."

In the two years since the last presidential election Bayh has visited New Hampshire and Iowa a total of 15 times. Helmke said trials and tribulations on the hustings provide candidates opportunity to "work any kinks in your presentation, you work those out on the campaign trail.

"I think he's getting tested a lot more than he ever did in Indiana. In Indiana he started out well-known, he started out with credibility. Even when he ran for secretary of state the first time everyone knew who he was. As he does the presidential run the folks out there don't know. So, that's where he will get more of an honest appraisal as to how he's doing and I'm sure he's getting that and I'm sure he's learning from it."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Midterms good for Bayh's presidential prospects

Midterms good for Bayh's presidential prospects

For Howey Political Report Nov. 9, 2006

Democratic voters were good to Evan Bayh in this year's midterm elections.

The two-term senator from Indiana is not scheduled to run for re-election until 2010, but he did have a lot riding on the success of numerous candidates in races throughout the country. For starters, our former governor invested manpower, funding and reputation in the Hoosier state's three key congressional races.

The three victories support Bayh's claim, delivered to thousands of Democrats all across the country, that he can help the party win votes in red states. He wasted no time touting the successes with a statement disseminated Tuesday night.

"The lesson of this election is clear," the statement read. "We won by turning the red states of the heartland blue. Indiana, which has voted for the Republicans in 16 of the last 17 presidential elections, sent three new Democrats to congress. This is not an accident.

"Out here in Indiana, we have developed a formula for winning under the most difficult of circumstances. We are fiscally responsible, tough on national security, share the values of middle class families, and value progress over partisanship."

One Indiana Democrat who credited Bayh's support with aiding the cause was Evan Kelsay, who managed Terry Coriden's losing campaign in State Senate District 41.

"Evan Bayh's Sunday rally for Baron Hill definitely went a long way to energizing the Democratic base in Bartholomew County, a heavily Republican area by the numbers," Kelsay, who was running his first campaign, told HPR. "Voter turnout was at presidential-year levels.

"In a place where none of its 19 county-wide Democratic candidates won their races, Baron was able to keep pace with Mike Sodrel, only losing [the county] by 306 votes," Kelsay said. "In all honesty, that was a win for Baron, because it forced Sodrel to play defense and not to take the county for granted."

Bayh's influence reached well beyond Indiana's borders. In total, the senator campaigned, contributed money and/or provided paid staff for approximately 350 candidates and party committees nationwide, said Dan Pfeiffer, the senator's communications director. Bayh's leadership PAC, All America PAC, featured 28 state and federal races in 14 states, with Democrats winning two dozen. Perhaps more significantly, AAPAC provided 50 paid staffers from the Camp Bayh program to campaigns in the key presidential primary states of Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Bayh blogger Rob Harrington of Confessions of a Hoosier Democrat reported that the Camp Bayh staff tallied an 18-7 record on Tuesday.

Politicians took notice. Yesterday's Hotline included this tidbit under the headline "Bayh The Key To Victory In IA?":

"IA GOP sources credit staffers detailed to IA state leg races by Sen. Evan Bayh's All America PAC for the Dem victory in the state. Approx. 25 staffers paid by Bayh's PAC helped IA Dems work on those campaigns; Republicans had fewer than 10 paid staffs working on leg. races (Hotline reporting, 11/7)"

Boston Globe political correspondent James Pindell, who served as a panelist at this year's HPR Forum, said Bayh has also earned the right to bask in an historical Democratic victory in New Hampshire, where the party gained the majority in both state houses for the first time since 1874.

"There's no doubt that Evan Bayh can take some credit for the fact that Democrats in New Hampshire had an historic night," Pindell told HPR. "He gave his time. He gave his money. He also allowed 15 staffers to share their resources for these races. The most important thing Evan Bayh can take away from the victories in New Hampshire is a more knowledgeable staff."

Pindell, who hails from New Castle, said that while some New Hampshire candidates may not exactly be indebted to Evan Bayh, they "at least have to give him a fair shot. So Evan Bayh definitely does come off better than most presidential candidates. There's only probably John Edwards that could even come close in parallelling the influence that Bayh has had."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bayh has a stake in Tuesday's elections

Bayh has a stake in Tuesday's elections

For Howey Political Report Nov. 2, 2006

Break out the lawn chairs, folks, the 2006 midterms and the battle to control Congress are here. At least three of Indiana's congressional races are promising some of the best and most expensive fireworks seen in these parts for quite some time.

Money is pouring in faster than a July gully washer. Yesterday, Congressional Quarterly reported almost $1.5 million new expenditures in the 9th CD by the Republican and Democratic congressional committees. That's just what the national parties reported spending. In one day. In a single race. For representative.

As advertised, Evan Bayh has rolled up his sleeves and come home to join the fun. The boy from Shirkieville, who was raised on all things political, will be offering his good name and considerable talent to encourage voters to support Democratic candidates in the 2nd, 8th and 9th CD races.

Bayh's stake in these midterms is not just political, it's also personal. He's expended thousands of hours and millions of dollars preparing for a run at the White House in 2008. Indiana's three close races present opportunity and challenge to add substance to Bayh's assertion that his moderate brand can help Democrats win red state voters. The two-term senator would benefit should Tuesday's winners credit his assistance, but Democratic losses will be seen as a potential liability.

The senator's communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, tells HPR that Bayh is slated to attend nine events in Indiana, including five press events, two GOTV rallies, a J-J dinner and a breakfast fundraiser.

This afternoon Sen. Bayh will appear at the Kokomo UAW offices with Joe Donnelly, who hopes to unseat Rep. Chris Chocola in the 2nd. Research 2000 reported the Democrat was ahead in an Oct. 31 poll 50/47. This evening Bayh's schedule indicates he will attend the St. Joseph County Jefferson-Jackson dinner and fundraiser at the Mishawaka Fraternal Order of Police building.

Tomorrow he meets Donnelly at a breakfast fundraiser in South Bend, followed by a press event at the Schafer Gear Works. Sunday Bayh is slated to appear again with Donnelly at a press event in Logansport in the afternoon.

Sunday evening he will travel to Columbus for a press event with Baron Hill, who is challenging Rep. Mike Sodrel to regain the seat he once held in the 9th CD. An Oct. 29 poll conducted by Zogby indicated the Democrat was leading by a two-point margin (48/46).

Monday noon Bayh is scheduled to appear with Hill at a GOTV rally in Jeffersonville.

In the afternoon of the last day before the election, Sen. Bayh is set for a press event in Terre Haute with Brad Ellsworth. Recent media reports showed Ellsworth leading Rep. John Hostettler by seven to ten points. Monday night the Plumbers & Pipe Fitters Union plans a GOTV rally with Bayh and Ellsworth in Evansville.