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."


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