Evan Bayh to Retire: More Bad News for Democrats

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) will announce this afternoon that he won't seek reelection for a third term in November. In a statement obtained by The New York Times, Bayh cites the atmosphere on Capitol Hill as dulling his appetite for politics. "After all these years, my passion for service to my fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so in Congress has waned," he will say at a press conference at 2 p.m.

The move is a surprise to many Democrats, and virtually guarantees that Republicans will pick up the seat in November. Former Republican senator Dan Coatsrecently announced his interest in challenging Bayh, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has since spent significant time and resources attacking his candidacy. Still, Bayh had strong prospects for reelection. One recent pollgave him a 20-point advantage over Coats. (I've wondered over the past few weeks why, this far out from an election, Democrats had responded so strongly to Coats's potential candidacy. This is probably the reason—were they trying to force the most serious contender out of the race before Bayh announced?)

Bayh's decision is another blow to Democrats, who were already looking at a tough midterm cycle. He will be the fifth Democrat to announce his retirement, after Chris Dodd (Conn.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Roland Burris (Ill.), and Ted Kaufman (Dela.). Along with North Dakota, Indiana will be one of the toughest seats for the Democrats to defend. Their majority will almost certainly shrink, and some pundits speculate they could lose their majority altogether. Democrats have until Friday, which is the filing deadline, to announce a replacement candidate.

It's hard to tell what impact Bayh's rationale for retiring will have. (Close associates of his tell the NYT that he has been fed up with, and checked out of, Washington for some time.) It's essentially a condemnation of D.C., bolstering voter complaints that Congress is broken. It's damaging to Obama, whose election promises to reform Washington seem more futile by the day. If Democrats can tie Bayh's decision to Republican obstructionism in the Senate, they might fare OK. But if not, they're the folks with the numbers in this town, and if one of their own says Congress isn't working, it's pretty easy to see where the blame will end up.

UPDATE: No primary for Indiana Dems: TPM is reporting that, because it is highly unlikely any potential replacement candidate will collect the requisite signatures before Friday, the Indiana Democratic Party will select its own candidate.

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