Don’t count on a Pence vs. Bayh Senate race

“Sure, it’s a long shot (Bayh got 62% of the vote in 2004),” Kristol explained. “But if voters are as upset as they may well be, Pence could make the race competitive. If he won, he’d be a leading possibility for national office as soon as 2012. If he loses, but runs a respectable race – which surely he’ll do – he’d have a good shot to succeed Mitch Daniels as governor in 2012.”

It reminded me of my radio conversations on “The Mike Pence Show” with the host. Pence would often say that Evan Bayh likes to shoot the lay up, not the three-pointer.

But on Christmas Eve, Bayh shot the trey, even if it came as the shot clock was expiring and his shoe nudged the arc. Bayh had become one of the undecided moderates in the Senate who confessed to being “agnostic” about the reforms at one point. He used his undecided status to help get a new tax on medical device makers substantially reduced in the Senate bill. Throughout Bayh’s undecided period, he was under intense pressure from labor supporters and Moveon.org to get on board and support the so-called “public option” and then simply to help get the bill beyond cloture and up for a vote.

After casting his controversial vote, Bayh explained, “The health reform debate epitomizes all that frustrates the American people, including me, about Congress and Washington D.C. There has been too much ideology and not enough pragmatism; too much politics and not enough statesmanship; and the national interest has been held hostage to personal and parochial concerns. This process has produced a choice between an unacceptable status quo and an alternative that is less than ideal.”

Bayh called the legislation “flawed,” but added that it ends preexisting conditions and expands Medicare for seniors. It will reduce the deficit by $132 billion in the next decade.

“My bottom line is that this is a close call,” Bayh explained. “With a proposal this large and complex, perfection is unachievable. But one thing is certain beyond any doubt: Inaction will only cause our problems to fester, year after year. This proposal gives us a chance for a better health care system. The alternative is to have no chance of doing better, and that is unacceptable.”

Just to show how polarized even some of the basics around the health reforms are, Sen. Dick Lugar voted against, saying, “Health care reform legislation debate began with three main goals: to cover almost all Americans, to reduce health care costs, and to not increase federal deficit spending. This bill fails on all three of those goals.”

So whether the reforms actually reduce the federal deficit is up for debate, with answers unclear for much of the next decade.

Bayh has routinely won elections in landslide fashion after winning the governorship in 1988. In contrast, his father – U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh – was an unabashed liberal representing a conservative state. He never won a Senate race by more than five percent, including a couple of races that were absolute barn burners.

It had appeared that Bayh had ducked the most credible challenger when former legislator Dan Dumezich decided not to run despite $8 million in war chest commitments. That left little known State Sen. Marlin Stutzman of Howe, Winchester financial adviser Don Bates Jr., and Richard Behney of the Tea Party movement as challengers until former six-term congressman John Hostettler entered the race in November. Hostettler probably emerges as the GOP front-runner due to his southwestern Indiana base and vivid ties to the Right to Life wing of the party.

But a Pence challenge would take this race out of the “Safe” Democrat and into “Leans Bayh” territory. Pence’s name has been floated for everything from the 2012 presidential and Indiana gubernatorial races to staying in the House and dreams of being addressed as “Mr. Speaker” some day.

“Sen. Pence” isn’t gonna happen. Pence chief-of-staff Bill Smith said on Monday that the congressman “has no plans” for a Senate race in ’10. He will seek re-election in 2010 and “focus on electing Republican majorities” in the U.S. and Indiana houses. As for a potential gubernatorial run, Smith said that decision would come after next November.

That’s good news for Sen. Bayh who won’t be facing an all-star opponent. Of course, Dan Quayle wasn’t considered a top-tier challenger in 1980 when he took aim at the senator’s father and delivered an upset.

(Howey publishes at www.howeypolitics.com)

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