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Bayh's Very Partisan Exit

While decrying too much partisanship in Washington, Bayh stacked the deck for Democrats.

6:28 PM, Feb 17, 2010 • By FRED BARNES
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Did Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, who insists he favors more bipartisanship in Washington, schedule the announcement of his retirement to give his party a distinctly partisan advantage in picking a candidate to run for his seat?  It sure looks like he did exactly that.

Bayh's Very Partisan Exit

Indeed, Democratic strategists and party officials in Indiana were full of praise for Bayh for delivering his announcement less than 24 hours before the filing deadline for candidates. This means party leaders--32 of them--will pick a candidate (by June 30), and a primary will be averted.

Republicans, in contrast, have five candidates who met the filing deadline and its requirement for 500 signatures on petitions in each of the state’s nine congressional districts. The Republican candidate will be chosen in a May 4 primary election.

The Bayh move helps Democrats in several significant ways.  Republicans will have to spend large amounts of money in the primary campaign. Democrats won’t. Primaries are often divisive and damaging to the candidate who wins the nomination.  Democrats won’t face that problem.

And Democrats will know who the Republican candidate is two months before they have to name a candidate of their own. They can do polling to determine who would be the best candidate to run against the Republican. And they’ll have two months to attack the Republican candidate while Republicans may not have a Democrat at whom to fire back.

Bayh almost certainly knew exactly what he was doing. He is the most important Democrat in Indiana and one of his close associates, state party chairman Dan Parker, will lead the panel that chooses the Democratic candidate for Senate.

And Bayh is very familiar with the state’s election law.  His first elected office was Indiana secretary of state, the official who’s in charge of elections.

Politico, the Washington-based political newspaper, quoted Indiana Democrats as saying the timing of Bayh’s announcement was beneficial to their party.  “I’m sure Sen. Bayh was well aware of the need for the party to have as much input as possible,” Marion County Democratic chairman Edward Treacy told Politico.  “He knew what he was doing.”

The ABC News affiliate in Indianapolis, WRTV, said “Democratic sources”  told the station tell that “Sen. Bayh waited ‘til the last minute to prevent other Democrats from entering the race and that also means keeping people out who might not have really had a chance at winning the general election.”

This affected one Democrat in particular, a café owner in Bloomington named Tamyra d’Ippolito.  A political unknown, she was not the favorite of party leaders.  She collected signatures but fell short of the required number in each district.

Republicans were furious over the trick Bayh and Democrats appeared to have pulled on them.   They demanded that Democrats seek a court order extending the filing deadline so their candidates would go through the same process as Republicans.

“Doing so would remove any appearance of unfair gamesmanship by the Democrats while affirming their belief that voters, and not party bosses, should be the final arbiters of elections,” said Senator John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.  Republicans held out little hope Democrats would agree.

In announcing his decision to quit Washington, Bayh made a point of criticizing the lack of bipartisanship in Congress.  “There is too much partisanship and not enough progress,” Bayh said.

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