Sen. Bayh in danger; a look at the numbers 

Pollster Scott Rasmussen has taken the first poll on the 2010 Senate race in Indiana—a race that until the last couple of weeks no one thought would be seriously contested. Rasmussen shows Democratic incumbent Evan Bayh trailing Republican Congressman Mike Pence 47%-44% and leading former Congressman John Hostettler 44%-41% and state Senator Martin Stutzman 45%-33%. 

These are astounding numbers. A general rule in polling is that what an incumbent gets in a poll he gets in a general election. Everyone knows him; those not voting for him now are not likely to vote for him later. This is particularly the case with Evan Bayh, who was elected secretary of state of Indiana in 1986 at age 30, then was elected governor of Indiana in 1988 and 1992 (and saw a Democrat hold the governorship in 1996) and who was elected senator from Indiana in 1998 (when incumbent Dan Coats retired rather than face Bayh) and 2004. Bayh has to be universally known in Indiana, and over the years he has built a reputation as a moderate Democrat, which has helped him win in a state which voted Republican in every presidential election from 1968 to 2004 and which voted for Barack Obama in 2008 by the narrow margin of 50%-49%.  

Moreover, Bayh’s potential opponents are not well known. Mike Pence may have been getting a fair amount of local coverage as a Republican leader in the House, but he is hardly a household name statewide. Hostettler served six terms in the House, but he is from the sparsely populated southwest corner of the state, he never spent much money on his campaigns and he lost his seat in 2006 by the unambiguous margin of 61%-39%. Stutzman is a freshman state senator.  

Let’s just lay out the numbers, and compare them with Evan Bayh’s percentages in past general elections. And let’s look also at the general election numbers of Evan Bayh’s father, Birch Bayh, who was elected to the Senate three times in Indiana and who had a reputation as a more liberal Democrat than his son. Birch Bayh never had an easy race: he beat three formidable Republicans, incumbent Senator Homer Capehart in 1962, future EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus in 1968 and former Indianapolis Mayor and future Senator Richard Lugar in 1974. He finally lost to Dan Quayle in 1980.  

The following table shows the percentages for Evan and Birch Bayh and then those for their opponents in the Rasmussen poll and in recent elections: 

            Evan Bayh vs. Mike Pence 2010  44-47

            Evan Bayh vs. John Hostettler 2010  44-41

            Evan Bayh vs. Martin Stutzman 2010 45-33 

            Evan Bayh vs. Marvin Scott 2004  62-37

            Evan Bayh vs. Paul Helmke 1998  64-35

            Evan Bayh vs. Linley Pearson 1992  62-37

            Evan Bayh vs. John Mutz 1988  53-47 

            Birch Bayh vs. Dan Quayle 1980  46-54

            Birch Bayh vs. Richard Lugar 1974  51-46

            Birch Bayh vs. William Ruckelshaus 1968 52-48

            Birch Bayh vs. Homer Capehart 1962 50.3-49.7 

The pattern is clear. Evan Bayh is running far behind the way he ran once Indiana voters had a chance to observe his performance as governor, significantly behind the way he ran in his first race for governor, significantly behind his father’s winning percentages in three Senate races and close only to the percentage his father won when he was defeated in the heavily Republican year of 1980, when Ronald Reagan was carrying Indiana over Jimmy Carter by a margin of 56%-38%.  

This is where the Obama administration programs and the Senate health care bill, for which Evan Bayh voted, have put an attractive and well-known Democrat who has shown time and again his ability to run far ahead of his party.  

No wonder Evan Bayh has no use for the advice of bloggers that Democrats should buckle down and somehow jam a health care bill through. As he told Al Hunt of Bloomberg News, via Ben Smith of Politico,  

But just ramming it through on a solely partisan basis, particularly if you're using reconciliation, well, I think that would be very difficult. And one of the lessons out of Massachusetts was you've got to listen to us. We want you people to work together. No back room deals, no special deals. All those, by the way, Al, those have got to be taken out of the bill. 

Evan Bayh did not win five statewide races in Indiana, a state that tends to favor the other party, by being stupid. Now the question is whether he is smart enough to get himself out of the hole Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have dug for him—and which he was willing, when the Senate had 60 Democrats, to jump in himself.   

Larry Sabato and Nate Silver say that if the November election were held today, Democrats would lose seven Senate seats, bringing their total down to 52. They didn’t count Bayh’s seat, or those held by Russ Feingold or Wisconsin or Patty Murray of Washington, as one that would be lost. If Democrats lose those, they would be down to 49—a huge loss, and in an election in which a year ago they thought they could gain rather than lose seats.

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Michael Barone

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