INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Democrat Evan Bayh launched a bid Wednesday to recapture the Indiana Senate seat he left six years ago, a move that boosts his party's chances to pick up the Republican-held seat in their effort to regain control of the chamber this fall.
Bayh, 60, cited frustration with Washington gridlock when he retired in 2010 after two Senate terms. He said a recruitment push by national Democrats didn't sway his decision to seek a political comeback.
"The dysfunction in Washington has gotten even worse over the last six years," he told The Associated Press. "We have challenges that face our country and our families that aren't being met. I want to be a part of the solution to the challenges that we face by helping to bring people together, bridging some of the partisan divides that have separated our country."
Bayh's announcement came two days after former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill cleared the way by withdrawing as the Democratic nominee for the seat held by Republican Sen. Dan Coats, who is retiring.
"If he thought it was dysfunctional and partisan then, welcome back, it was nothing like it is today," Coats said.
Hill was not considered a strong candidate to take on GOP nominee U.S. Rep. Todd Young, who was backed by Republican establishment figures in the state's May primary against a tea party favorite.
National Democrats pushed for Bayh to enter the race, where he will have advantages of name identification and campaign cash over Young.
Since word of Bayh's candidacy emerged on Monday, Republicans have attacked Bayh for remaining in Washington, where he has been a partner at the McGuireWoods law firm and joined several corporate boards since leaving the Senate.
Young said Bayh, whose father, Birch Bayh, was a three-term senator, is a member of the political elite and the "fortunate son" of Indiana Democratic politics.
"Changing the system does not benefit Evan Bayh," Young said. "Evan Bayh looks out for one — one individual, not one party. The name of that individual is Evan Bayh, Washington lobbyist."
Bayh, who was a two-term governor before winning his first Senate election in 1998, said he's never been a lobbyist and shifted away from questions about his post-Senate career.
"This election needs to be about middle class families and what we can do to meet their challenges," Bayh said. "Not about a bunch of politicians tearing each other down."
Democrats need to net four or five seats to win back Senate control — four if they hang onto the White House and can send the vice president to break ties in the Senate; five if they don't. With a handful of competitive races around the country, one seat can make all the difference, and putting Indiana in play could be crucial.
Even if Bayh can't win his old seat back, his candidacy would force Republicans to spend money in a state they had no plans to invest in. The latest federal reports show that Bayh had nearly $9.3 million in his campaign account at the end of March, while Young's campaign announced Monday that he had about $1.2 million in the bank on June 30.
Bayh's absence from politics won't hurt him much despite the Indiana trending Republican in recent years, said former Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke, a Republican who lost to Bayh in the 1998 Senate race.
"All the sudden Todd Young has gone from being the favorite to being the underdog," said Helmke, an Indiana University public affairs professor. "All the sudden, rather than being in a positon where they have a money advantage, they have a disadvantage."
While Republicans are attacking Bayh for living and working in Washington after leaving the Senate, Helmke pointed out that Coats survived similar criticism from Democrats in 2010 when he made his own Senate comeback after 12 years out of office.
Associated Press writer Brian Slodysko contributed to this report.