Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Evan, they hardly knew ye

Evan, they hardly knew ye

For Howey Political Report Dec. 19, 2006

Ten days. That's how long Evan Bayh owned the lead role of the non-Hillary centrist in the unfolding drama that is the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate selection process.

The afternoon of Oct. 12 must have been a giddy time for the senator's political staff, the crack professionals who over the past year worked in the wings to elevate Bayh's prominence on the national stage. In a surprise announcement made earlier that day, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner had declared he was leaving the race to spend more time with his teenage daughters. For months, both Bayh and Warner had clamored to occupy almost exactly the same political role - the non-Hillary, a moderate with executive experience and a resume demonstrating the ability to win votes in a red state. Reports indicate Bayh was immediately on the telephone, working to woo Warner supporters.

"We are very pleased in the reception that Senator Bayh is getting from former Warner supporters," Bayh's communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, told HPR at the time. "There is clearly an appetite for someone with a proven record of winning in red states."

But it was not to be. On Oct. 22nd the bright lights focused instead on Barack Obama of Illinois. The Democratic senator known for captivating crowds in Kennedy-esque fashion announced on NBC's "Meet The Press" that he was considering entering the fray. Suddenly Evan Bayh had a real fight on his hands - perhaps the greatest challenge in his political career to date - to somehow compete for attention (and funding) on a stage occupied by none other than Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John Kerry and, finally, Barack Obama.

On Friday, less than two weeks after establishing a presidential exploratory committee, the boy from Shirkieville telephoned supporters to say he'd had enough. He was dropping from the race.

"The odds were always going to be very long for a relatively unknown candidate like myself, a little bit like David and Goliath." Bayh said in a statement released Saturday. "...I concluded that due to circumstances beyond our control the odds were longer than I felt I could responsibly pursue."

The former Hoosier governor - and his incredible team of political professionals and citizen volunteers - would have had to overcome considerable obstacles if they wanted to claim a place among the celebrity front-runners.

"This wasn't about not having the support of his family," a source close to the Bayh camp told HPR. "This wasn't about not being able to raise the money. It wasn't about not being able to enlist the staff and army of volunteers.

'It was about inevitably coming up short and letting down all those folks who have devoted their time, talent and treasure to the cause," said the source, who asked not to be identified.

Evan Bayh may be popular in Indiana, but he is largely unknown beyond our borders. Even after spending a month of days over dozens of trips to the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire Bayh failed to register much more than a statistical blip on poll after poll. Each low ranking diminished his prospects. As former Ft. Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke told HPR in mid-November, key Democrats - the gatekeepers and money-makers - were "looking for someone who can win."

In the past two years Sen. Bayh has certainly exhibited a winning work ethic. His thousand-hour effort to build support for a presidential campaign took him to more than two dozen states. He appeared on countless TV news programs, offered interviews to newspapers and magazines, toured the Democratic rubber chicken circuit, and campaigned on behalf of state and national candidates across the country. In Iowa and New Hampshire he frequented dining halls and coffee houses, attended fundraisers and barbecues, hosted meet and greets, and munched on pork chops at the State Fair. In Indiana he rolled up his sleeves and campaigned for a total of nearly two weeks on behalf of congressional and state candidates.

He continued to come up short in the polls, however, and the prospect of a brutal battle looming in the home stretch may have just been too much.

"So you spend 12-14 months in a whirlwind of travel, fundraising, missing votes, missing your family, and what do you have to show for it," the source said. "You're broke, exhausted and you've strained your family to the max."

Bayh's announcement that he is leaving the race closes a remarkable chapter in his career. During the past two years his work on the hustings has bolstered an already solid reputation among moderates in the party and has earned him friends and supporters at all levels. He has gained status through his efforts to shape the Democratic agenda on matters of national security, and there is reason to suspect he will be in the forefront when the upcoming Congress debates energy and fair trade policy.

The much-touted success of the Camp Bayh immersion program may well be one of Bayh's most significant contributions to the American political process. The program trained and supplied a total of 50 staffers to targeted local, state and national races in the key presidential states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada as well as in several Indiana contests. While other presidential contenders had provided a staffer or two in the past, none had dedicated so much time and talent, and to such great effect. State party officials in New Hampshire and Iowa were particularly grateful, and the program is certain to be duplicated in the future.

"He was certainly the one with the most skin in the game up to this point, at least in Iowa," Iowa state Sen. Jeff Danielson told U.S. News & World Report. "He had the most invested and was building a real framework."

One of the greatest assets of the Bayh campaign was his political staff, which was often described by those in the business as one of the best assembled by any candidate. Finding work after a failed campaign is not always easy, according to Nancy Todd Tyner, a political consultant who specializes in gaming campaigns.

"It's a relatively small group of consultants at that level and if you're friendly with the next camp, you're in, if you're not friendly or have had a past feud you're looking to work in an ad agency - or something," Tyner said. "It's a rough field"

National Journal's Hotline reported this morning that several staffers of Bayh's leadership PAC, All America PAC, have already been contacted by other campaigns.

"All of the political staff is looking for new jobs," explained Pfeiffer, Bayh's communications director. "Sen. Bayh has been generous and is helping people with salaries and recommendations. I am leaving and am talking to people about what comes next for me."

Members of Bayh's veteran staff - well seasoned and tempered in the current political climate - are certain to rise to key roles in whatever campaign they eventually join, which may benefit Bayh in the future as well. The senator also managed to attract a national fan base of citizen volunteers, often known as "Bayh Partisans," who worked on his behalf mostly online. Some have already switched allegiance to another candidate, but many have indicated they would support another Bayh run, although websites touting the senator are rapidly disappearing from the internet.

There has been much speculation about the future of Sen. Bayh, who turns 51 next Tuesday.

"By dropping from the race before it ever really began, Bayh likely bolsters his chances at the vice presidential nomination down the line," wrote Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post's political blog. "If he had run for president and not been able to show strong in any of the four early states, he would have been forced out of the race with a whimper, not a bang. As it now stands, Bayh and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner have to be considered the frontrunners for the '08 vice presidential nomination."

An "Evan Bayh For Vice President" page has already cropped up on

The Indianapolis Star's editorial board recently criticized the senator for failing to produce substantial legislation in the Republican-run Congress. Today the newspaper published an article that asked "What's left for Bayh?"

"Bayh has the opportunity to emerge as a stronger leader in the Senate," the editoral reads. "To do so, he needs to develop an expertise in a few key issues - much like his Republican counterpart, Richard Lugar. Digging deep into matters such as terrorism, the economy or health care would in time help erase the lightweight tag that, deserved or not, has been hung on Bayh in recent years."

Indiana's junior senator sits on some of the senate's most powerful committees, including Armed Services and Intelligence. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has appointed Bayh to Energy as well, where he may find opportunity at last to push for the passage of his legislative proposal that would reduce U.S. oil consumption by the amount we import today. Such legislative success would lend significant substance to the Bayh resume.

With dad home for the holidays to stay, this Christmas will likely be quite special in the Bayh household. In the course of his extensive travels over the past two years, Sen. Bayh has often brought up the subject of his wife, Susan, and his eleven-year-old twin sons, Beau and Nick. In fact, on his last trip to New Hampshire, only days before he withdrew from the race, the senator said he wanted to run for president "because I care about our country and it's because I care about my children and it's because I care about all of you. And I want to see each and every American, all 300 million of us, have the hope and opportunity necessary to fulfill our destiny and fulfill our dreams."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Prominent New Hampshire Democrat says Bayh 'has lots of friends here'

Prominent New Hampshire Democrat
says Bayh 'has lots of friends here'

For Howey Political Report Dec. 14, 2006

Can "Bayh Partisanship" compete with "Obama Mania" in the contest to win a spot on the 2008 Democratic presidential ticket? One prominent New Hampshire Democrat says it's way too early to know.

More than 150 voters from all corners of the Granite State packed the conference center at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester last Saturday evening to hear Indiana's Sen. Evan Bayh explain why he thinks he should be the next president of the United States. The next day Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois drew ten times that amount at the Manchester Radisson for a rally to celebrate the state's Democratic sweep in the November midterms, an historic victory Bayh helped to create.

Bayh supporters need not despair quite yet, though they may be rightfully worried about the prospects of facing Obama on the hustings. For starters, neither Democrat has officially committed to a run, though it seems highly likely the junior senator from Indiana will commit sometime early next year. Obama, on the other hand, has been much more coy about revealing his intentions. Earlier this week the former editor of the Harvard Law Review appeared in a clip aired during the opening of Monday Night Football that suggested he was about to announce his candidacy, but finished by proclaiming his support for the Chicago Bears instead. Yesterday, James Pindell of the Boston Globe reported that a group encouraging the Illinois senator to run for president announced it will begin airing television ads in New Hampshire and Washington next week.

Second, the New Hampshire primary is more than a year away. Anything could happen. In the 1972 cycle, early Democratic favorite Edmund Muskie suffered two setbacks that proved fatal to his campaign. Publication of a document later determined to be a forgery, known as the "Canuck Letter," cost Muskie support among French-Canadians, but more damaging were reports that the candidate cried during a speech defending his wife in a snow storm outside the offices of the Manchester Union Leader. "Though Muskie later stated that what had appeared to the press as tears were actually melted snowflakes, the press reports that Muskie broke down and cried were to shatter the candidate's image as calm and reasoned," a Wikipedia article states. Or, consider the case of Republican George Romney, the front-runner in 1968 until he used the term "brainwashing" to describe attempts by U.S. generals in Vietnam to influence Romney's understanding of the war. According to Wikipedia, "Republican Congressman Robert Stafford of Vermont sounded a common concern: 'If you're running for the presidency,' he asserted, 'you are supposed to have too much on the ball to be brainwashed.'"

Finally, Bayh supporters should find most comfort in the perception that he is actually well ahead in the game in New Hampshire, having toured the state a total of 13 days over seven visits during the current election cycle. Obama is just getting started. Sunday's visit was his first.

"That's going to be the challenge for both of those campaigns, whether or not Sen. Obama can keep the momentum going and whether or not Sen. Bayh can reach out and create a message that attracts enough support for him to be successful as well," said Ray Buckley, vice chair for the New Hampshire Democratic Party. "Each one of them has amazing advisors and I'm sure they are going to try like the dickens to accomplish both of those feats."

Buckley, vice chair in the past two election cycles, is schooled in New Hampshire and national politics. He served in the state legislature for eight years and is a former House Democratic Whip. He was involved in the Al Gore campaign during the 2000 election and the Lieberman campaign in 2004. The Manchester native told HPR that Bayh "has a lot of friends here in New Hampshire.

"He's been coming up here helping out candidates and local parties for a number of years," Buckley said during a telephone interview conducted yesterday. "He has a lot of strong relationships with people that go back to the days 30 years ago when his dad ran for president. He also was very involved in assisting us in this year's election. He was very engaged, very involved in assisting the election of the house majority and the senate majority, but he also provided support for county candidates and for the governor and for the state party as well. Of all the candidates, he really was the most engaged in really assisting candidates directly."

There's no place quite like New Hampshire when it comes to presidential politics. The state has hosted the nation's first primary since 1952. In recent years it has become integral to electoral success. As Buckley pointed out, no candidate who has placed third or below in New Hampshire has gone on to become the nominee of either party. Granite State voters believe they have a responsibility to personally and thoroughly vet any man or woman who would be president. To that end they expect to be provided opportunity to meet with and question prospects.

"In so many other places people get very starry eyed when they meet somebody running for president and they're just excited having shook their hand or even being in the same room, where we in New Hampshire aren't overly impressed by the fact that you're running for president," Buckley said.

When HPR pointed out that New Hampshire voters were undeniably excited to see Sen. Obama this past weekend, Buckley said "It is very exciting and he obviously has generated a lot of support, but there's a long time between now and the primary.

"What [Obama] needs to do now is to actually go into people's living rooms and go from coffee shop to coffee shop, and diner to diner, to really talk to real New Hampshire people and get to know them, and have conversations with people that might not be overly impressed, people that he's going to need to win over."

Which is exactly what Evan Bayh has been doing since 2004, and that may explain how he managed to pack a room Saturday night at the Puritan.

"All sorts of different people from across the state came by to see [Bayh], including the state chair and a number of state senators, house members and a number of county chairs were there as well," Buckley said. "It was a good mixture. There was some young people, some students, in the room. He did a great job talking about his message."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hamilton, Bayh and the Iraq disaster

Hamilton, Bayh and the Iraq disaster

By Mark Curry and Brian A. Howey
for the Howey Political Report Dec. 7, 2006

WASHINGTON - As Americans began to come to grips with a war in Iraq it is not winning, according to the incoming secretary of defense, two Hoosier Democrats, Lee Hamilton and U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, were thrust into the national lens this week.

The blunt and bleak assessment of Hamilton and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III came in the week Sen. Bayh formed his presidential exploratory committee. The same day those papers were filed, Bayh questioned Robert M. Gates in a Senate confirmation hearing.

Gates rocked the nation when Sen. Carl Levin asked if the U.S. was “winning the war.” Gates responded, “No we are not.” Bayh asked Gates how he could be confident the president would heed his counsel. “Senator, because he asked me to take the job,” Gates replied. As the New York Times described the scene: Bayh waited for a more elaborate answer, and, realizing one was not coming, said simply, “He asked the others to take the jobs as well.”

“He impressed me as being candid and open minded, more realistic than what we’ve been seeing out of the administration these last six years,” Bayh said on CNN, explaining that he would vote to confirm Gates. “That said, simply changing the face at the Pentagon isn’t enough. We need a new policy that depends on what’s going on in the President’s mind. I’m not convinced that the President quite yet understands what needs to be done in Iraq.” Bayh referred to the leaked memo by National Security adviser Steven Hadley and said, “Ultimately, will he listen? Hadley leaked a memo with doubts about al-Maliki. Even (Donald) Rumsfeld was considering other options. Gates is a good man, but will he (President Bush) listen? Only time will tell.”

On Wednesday, it was Hamilton’s turn and he and Baker issued a stunning report that, when taken into context of the political rhetoric Americans heard in the weeks before the Nov. 7 elections, was jarring.

“We no longer can afford to stay the course,” Baker said in presenting the report at a news conference. “If we do what we recommend in this report, it will certainly improve our chances for success.”

Hamilton echoed his colleague’s sentiments, saying the Iraqi people are “suffering great hardship” and their lives must be improved. “The current approach is not working and the ability of the United States to influence events is diminishing,” Hamilton said. “Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward.”

Hamilton called the situation “grave and deteriorating.” The group’s co-chair said, however, that “not all options have been exhausted.”

The report suggests: “By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq. At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams and in training, equipping, advising, force protection and search and rescue.”

Hamilton outlined three important points: “Our three recommendations are equally important and re-enforce each other. (1) A change in the primary mission of U.S. forces. (2) Prompt action by the Iraqi government to achieve milestones and national reconciliation. And (3) A new and enhanced diplomatic effort in Iraq and within the region.”

NBC analyst Tim Russert reacted to the press conference, saying, “I was so taken by the bluntness and how bleak this report is.”

President Bush responded by saying, “This report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq. We will take every proposal seriously, and we will act in a timely fashion.” He urged Congress to take the group’s proposals seriously and work with the administration and find “common ground” on Iraq policy. “The country is tired of pure political bickering,” Bush said. In this mornings presser with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush referred to Iraq as “unsettled.” When pressed, Bush said, “It’s bad in Iraq. Did that help?”

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dick Lugar reacted: “I welcome the contributions of Secretary James Baker, Congressman Lee Hamilton and the entire Iraq Study Group. They have undertaken an exhaustive inquiry into the current situation in Iraq. The recommendations of the Iraq Study Group should be absorbed and considered by policymakers who are grappling with the complexities of Iraq policy and issues involving the broader landscape of the Middle East. I also welcome the concurrent activity in the Bush administration to review present policies and consider new approaches. As this process moves forward, Congress must be a constructive partner to the administration. Senator Biden has indicated that beginning in January, the Foreign Relations Committee will hold a series of hearings to continue our examination of U.S. options in Iraq. Since the summer of 2002, the Foreign Relations Committee has held roughly 40 hearings on Iraq under the chairmanships of Senator Biden and myself. We look forward to welcoming administration officials, members of the Iraq Study Group and other outside experts as we seek their views about how the United States can achieve the best possible outcome in Iraq.”

U.S. Sen. John McCain said this morning, “The one thing worse than an exhausted Army and Marine Corps is a defeated Army and Marine Corps.” McCain called the ISG report a “recipe for disaster” as he met with Baker and Hamilton. “Withdraw the troops and still have American troops embedded with Iraq troops puts at risk a large number of advisers,” he said.

Hamilton acknowledged, “You’re absolutely right about that. Those men and women will be in a place of danger. We will have combat forces there to protect the embedded forces. It’s a risky mission.” But Hamilton pushed back, saying at one point that Congress had been much too “timid” in its oversight of the war.

Bayh on the talk shows

Sen. Bayh received a huge amount of national exposure this week, from his Sunday appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” to the Gates confirmation hearing on Tuesday, and appearances on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.

On the war in Iraq, Bayh told ABC’s George Stephanopolous, “This problem is not going to be solved in Washington, not by the national security adviser and not by the president of the United States. It is going to be solved by Iraqis in Baghdad and across Iraq. If they don’t reconcile themselves to a common future and a common country, we are only operating on the margins.” Asked what he would do about U.S. presence, Bayh said, “I’ll tell you exactly what I’d do. I’d do the opposite of what the President did a month ago when he picked up the phone and called Prime Minister Al-Maliki and said, ‘Don’t worry; we’re staying.’ I’d pick up the phone and say, ‘You know what? We’re not staying forever.’”

Bayh said the central government must assert its authority. “If you do, we’ll stand by you and make a go of it because we want you to be successful. But if you don’t, there’s nothing we can do for you.” Asked if he would start to withdaw troops, Bayh said, “I’d like them to know we’re going to begin the process now to bring our presence in Iraq to a close. To show that I meant business, I would bring out a small amount of troops ... in the next few months.” Bayh said he would call a “Dayton-like conference” to “let them resolve their differences. Then I would time our departure in a way that gave them the best chance. If they can’t get their act together, we can’t do this for them.”

Bayh criticized President Bush’s statement in Amman, Jordan, last week that, “We’re going to stay as long as the Iraqis want us.” Bayh said, “That is not an acceptable standard for our troops. It’s not the advice he’s getting that matters, it’s what’s in his mind and I don’t think he grasps the essential truth there yet.”

On MSNBC, Bayh was asked by Nora O’Donnell, “Senator, let me ask you, you voted for the Iraq war, do you believe it was a mistake?”

Bayh responded, “Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. That’s why I voted like I did, I thought that leaving weapons like that in the hands of a man like him was a danger to the United States. Knowing what we know now, I would not cast the same vote.”

Bayh stakes bid on national security

While Bayh spent much of 2006 building a $10.7 million war chest and assembling a highly lauded campaign staff, he is hoping to use not only his red state political successes and executive experience in Indiana to his advantage, but as a pragmatic voice on national security. He has worked all year to cultivate and nurture that reputation. In a speech last February he said a “tough and smart” approach to Iraq would “establish benchmarks for success, a timeline for progress, accountability for results and candor about how we are doing.”

He has repeatedly criticized Republicans for being “a lot better at national security politics than national security policy,” and claimed the administration’s "stunning incompetence” has “undermined our security.”

“Iraq is the foremost example,” he said in a July speech. “They have turned it into a tragic, tragic mess.” As a member of two key committees, Armed Services and Intelligence, Sen. Bayh will have an opportunity in the next Congress to help make good on his oft-repeated boast that “Democrats can do better.” In order to do that, he will first have to face down those from his own party who seek to oppose him. Bayh was an early proponent for the war in Iraq, and his October 2002 vote to authorize an invasion disappointed even some Indiana Democratic activists who supported his governorship. He continues to try and rally Democrats to his cause.

“If people don’t trust us with our lives, they’re unlikely to trust us with anything else,” Bayh told thousands of Democrats during his travels through two dozen states in the past year. Mike Glover of the Associated Press wrote that during a visit to Iowa on Monday Bayh urged Democrats to “seek practical answers to the daily challenges facing Americans. If not, the party’s control of Congress could be brief.”

Bayh’s critical timing

The announcement last Sunday on ABC that he would form an exploratory committee, timed only two days before the Gates hearing, has helped to substantiate Bayh’s security credentials. The resulting widespread media attention may also serve to bolster his standing in polls that consistently rank him in the bottom tier among potential 2008 contenders. Last week the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute released a likeability poll of 20 top American political figures and Bayh finished 16th, below George Bush but above John Kerry. A full three-quarters of respondents indicated they did not have enough information about Bayh to decide if they like him or not, suggesting support for a Bayh candidacy has the potential to grow if he can manage to get his message out to the voters.

This weekend the former governor will take his message directly to the people of New Hampshire, where dissatisfaction with President Bush and the war in Iraq looms so large that for the first time in more than 100 years Democrats captured both state houses in the midterms.

One Granite State voter who was very happy with that outcome is Frank Murphy, the retired social worker who for two years served as Democratic chair for the town of Keene. In an interview conducted yesterday by telephone, Murphy told HPR that he hasn’t decided yet whether he will attend a Bayh event planned in his hometown this Sunday. He said he may be out drumming up support for the presidential candidate he endorses, former Alaskan Sen. Mike Gravel, who will also be in town. Murphy did say that he approved of Bayh’s questioning during the Gates hearing.

“I think everybody did well,” Murphy said of the hearing. “I don’t think [Bayh] said anything that made him stand out above the crowd. I thought his remarks were useful and illuminating and I was glad he made them.” But asked if he thought New Hampshire Democrats would be troubled by Bayh’s initial support of the Iraq war, he said, “That’s tough to say. There aren’t that many people that are aware of the vote. Of course in the campaign they would be. I think if you voted for it at this point it’s a negative, but then you have to look at the fact we voted for John Kerry in the last election, who voted for the Iraq war resolution. I don’t think it’s considered a good vote.”

In fact, a substantial majority of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq, although a Pew analysis at the time noted “the level of public support depends upon several important contingencies: whether or not U.S. allies and the United Nations go along with the effort; the level of potential casualties; and the nature of the evidence discovered by the U.N. weapons inspectors.” And, of the top Democrats considered possible presidential material at present, only U.S. Sen. Barack Obama can say he opposed the war from the beginning. Still, Bayh can expect concerns about Iraq to dominate just about wherever he goes, especially now that he’s offically a potential candidate looking for campaign funding. In the past week he’s been to Ohio, Minnesota and Illinois. Next week he visits Florida and Texas.

Like every other presidential candidate, Indiana’s junior senator will be asked to answer important questions related to Iraq in the months ahead. Donors and voters will want to know why he supported the invasion, how he reacted as the situation evolved and what he thinks should be done next. He will also be judged on his ability to shape legislation and policy impacting our role in that country. His remarkable career has anticipated a guiding role in national politics, yet he has landed in the midst of a peculiar American trauma, a time calling for the strongest brand of leadership. As Murphy said at the end of our interview, “If you’re in contact with the senator, tell him to keep working. America is in difficulty.”

Evan Bayh has a year to make the case that he possesses the strength and intelligence to lead Democrats and the country through the difficult years that lay ahead.