Senate Watch: Democrat and DC Lobbyist Evan Bayh in Trouble in Indiana?

Posted: Sep 12, 2016 3:56 PM

As we've been keeping an eye on this cycle's US Senate picture, we've only briefly discussed the Indiana race, which Larry Sabato recently rated as leaning in the direction of a Democratic pick-up. Flipping a red seat in a safe-ish red state into the blue column would be a major boon to Democrats' efforts at snatching back control of Congress' upper chamber. That's why they recruited retired Senator-turned-DC-lobbyist Evan Bayh to come off the bench and regain his old seat (being vacated by Dan Coats, who re-entered politics in 2010 to win back that very same seat, which he'd occupied for a decade prior to Bayh). At first, Bayh jumped out to a big lead over Republican nominee Todd Young, a sitting Congressman. But as he's burned through a sizable chunk of his war chest, Bayh's lead has shrunk considerably, leading National Journal's Josh Kraushaar to write that Democrats ought to be worried about the direction of this campaign:

Bayh is vul­ner­able to the same forces that are dog­ging his Demo­crat­ic com­pat­ri­ot. Both are seni­or states­men who are rusty in the mod­ern meth­ods of cam­paign­ing. Neither spent much time in their home states after leav­ing of­fice. Both are run­ning in states with siz­able white, work­ing-class pop­u­la­tions where Don­ald Trump could ac­tu­ally pre­vail in the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion (he’s solidly favored in In­di­ana and a slight un­der­dog in Ohio.) And Strick­land’s lead only dis­sip­ated when Re­pub­lic­ans star­ted un­leash­ing oppo against him months ago—and kept up the bar­rage. The well-fun­ded GOP cam­paign to define Bayh as a self-in­ter­ested car­pet­bag­ger is only just be­gin­ning in In­di­ana. If any­thing, Bayh could be more tox­ic than Strick­land, who was a res­id­ent fel­low at Har­vard’s In­sti­tute of Polit­ics be­fore spend­ing 10 months at a pro­gress­ive re­search and ad­vocacy group. Bayh went right through the re­volving door in­to big-time Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ing...A re­spec­ted WTHR/Howey poll re­leased Fri­day showed Bayh with a four-point lead, down from sev­en points in a Mon­mouth poll a month ago and a far cry from the double-di­git lead he re­cently held in Demo­crat­ic sur­veys. He’s only polling at 44 per­cent, des­pite near-uni­ver­sal name iden­ti­fic­a­tion. If Re­pub­lic­ans can keep chip­ping away at Bayh’s lead with car­pet­bag­ger at­tack lines, it would give them a des­per­ately-needed life­line in their bid to save their Sen­ate ma­jor­ity.

Since that analysis was written a few days ago, Republicans have continued to turn up the heat on Bayh, blasting him as a creature of the Beltway who abandoned his home state and its values to enrich himself on the east coast.  It appears they've pulled slightly ahead in the spending game, too, neutralizing Bayh's initial advantage.  An investigative report by the Indianapolis Star looked into whether Bayh can credibly call himself a resident of the state anymore. The answer: Technically yes, but his financial roots lie elsewhere, his neighbors almost never see him, and his Indiana voter registration lapsed into "inactive" status in 2014:

Is Evan Bayh an Indiana resident? That’s the question that has dogged the former two-term senator and two-term governor since his surprise decision this summer to try to return to the U.S. Senate. The place Bayh says is his residence is a one-bedroom condominium on the north side of Indianapolis, which he’s owned since 2002. But he has spent much time living in fancier, larger homes in Washington, D.C., since becoming a U.S. senator in 1998 and, later, when he went to work for a D.C. law firm in 2011...Bayh declined to say why he didn’t move back to Indiana, as he indicated he would, after his sons graduated from high school. And he declined to answer questions about his income tax forms that would help show how much time he spent in Indiana last year...One Hoosier who has lived next door to Bayh’s Indianapolis condo building for three years is bothered by the fact that she didn’t even know Bayh was her neighbor...Bayh’s Indianapolis condo is a fraction of the size — and an even smaller fraction of the cost — of either of the two houses he and his wife own in Washington.

He pays more in annual taxes on his beachfront condo in Key Biscayne, Fla., than the Indianapolis apartment’s $53,000 assessed value. But the apartment is the address Bayh has on his driver’s license. It’s the home he cites as his primary residence when paying property taxes on his multiple homes. And it’s the address Bayh uses for his voter registration, although he’s mostly voted by absentee ballot in the past decade. Also, once in 2014, and again last month, postcards sent to that address by the Indiana secretary of state’s office to confirm the residency could not be delivered, giving Bayh — at least temporarily — “inactive” voter status.

The GOP isn't legally or formally challenging Bayh's residency, opting to litigate the issue in the court of public opinion instead. Here are two of their latest ads pushing this line of attack:

Bayh's lead has collapsed from 21 points (in a Democrat-commissioned survey) to a four-point margin in one well-regarded statewide poll.  Watching these dynamics congealing into a narrative, the Democrat's campaign held a briefing this afternoon making the case that his advantage hasn't slipped that much in internal polling:

Republicans quickly cast the move as a desperate "emergency" event held (appropriately enough) in Washington, not Indiana.  Young's campaign and outside conservative groups will also frequently point out that Bayh cast a deciding vote for Obamacare in the US Senate, providing Barack Obama and Harry Reid with an essential vote in favor of a law that remains widely unpopular, is directly hurting more Americans than ever, and will exacerbate the country's debt woes.  Meanwhile, as the DSCC injects resources into Missouri and North Carolina -- having pulled back in Florida and Ohio -- Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer are sounding the money alarm:

Hillary Clinton’s race for the White House is increasingly focused on four of the battleground states: Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. And for Democrats trying to pick up Senate seats elsewhere, that might mean trouble...Democrats’ fight for Senate control is dicey enough that both Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and his expected successor, Chuck Schumer, have been directly urging the nominee’s campaign to start piling more resources into the battle for control of the chamber. She will, after all, need a Democratic Senate to get anything done come January, Reid has insisted...As if to underscore the urgency, Schumer threw $2 million of his own campaign cash into the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s account this week.

Recent polling shows Republican incumbents leading in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, Missouri and North Carolina -- and very competitive in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Add in a tiny edge for Joe Heck in the fight for Reid's open Nevada seat, plus Bayh's struggles in Indiana (though he's still the frontrunner), and a few paths to retaining a Senate majority begin to emerge.  It won't be easy, but the task is looking less daunting than it was just a few weeks ago. I'll leave you with the friendly reminder that relatively strong news and polling cycles giveth and can taketh away, especially in a volatile year like this one.