Bayh’s comeback hinges on image hit
Saturday, November 05, 2016 10:00 AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Evan Bayh bristles at the suggestion he may have to renew his appeal to Indiana voters after his surprise summer decision to jump back into politics and seek the U.S. Senate seat he gave up six years ago.
“There’s no reconnection that’s necessary. I’ve never lost connection to the people of my state,” the Democrat said in July after announcing a comeback bid with hopes of capitalizing on his household name from eight years as governor followed by 12 years in the Senate.
But several months later, a string of revelations about Bayh living and working out of state since he left office has reduced the perceived advantages of the national Democrats’ prized recruit. Now Bayh and his lesser-known Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Todd Young, are locked in a dead heat in a race that will help determine which party controls the Senate.
The election Tuesday will determine whether those revelations matter. It also will show whether the name and stature of the son of former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh still holds much sway with voters in the campaign against Young, who bills himself as a detail-oriented former Marine.
Republican and outside groups have poured $39 million into a mostly negative attack ad campaign, characterizing Bayh as a self-serving member of the elite who left office to become a corporate lobbyist.
Critical news stories have also challenged the well-regarded, bipartisan image Bayh once enjoyed, revealing he no longer lives in Indiana, rarely visited during his last year in office and conducted a job hunt for lucrative financial sector work during his final days in Congress while also considering legislation of benefit to his future employers.
That led Bayh to insist “I’m not a lobbyist” in television ads while striving to remind voters of tax cuts and a college scholarship program implemented during his time as governor that helped him leave office with sky-high approval ratings. But that was long ago and Bayh’s twin sons, born while he was governor, will turn 21 on Tuesday.
“Chip, chipping away, slowly over time and I think you see that in his slippage in the polls,” said Joseph Losco, director of Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs. “He’s counting on his image and his Hoosier roots — at least the roots that go back to before he lived in Washington to pull him through.”
Young, 44, was first elected to a southern Indiana congressional seat in 2010 and highlights his graduation from the Naval Academy and five years as a Marine Corps officer. A Republican establishment favorite, he was seen as cruising to victory before Bayh’s entry.
Since then, Young and his allies have assailed Bayh for voting in favor of President Barack Obama’s health care law and his Supreme Court nominees, branding them as liberal and anti-gun rights.
“This race for United States Senate here in Indiana could dictate control of the U.S. Senate and even composition of the Supreme Court moving forward,” Young said. “It is essential that Republicans hold on to this seat in what is otherwise a Republican state.”
Bayh has been on the defensive over his post-Senate work for a Washington law firm and private equity fund. He earned nearly $6.3 million since the beginning of 2015, with about a third of the total coming from Apollo Global Management, a self-described alternative investment manager based in New York, according to financial disclosure records.
His allies are fighting back. A blitz of attack ads run on Bayh’s behalf have targeted Young for bouncing a $4,000 check when making a payment on delinquent property taxes and being fined thousands of dollars by the Federal Election Commission for sloppy campaign finance practices. They also have criticized his use of more than $500,000 in taxpayer money to send promotional mailers to people in his district — more than any other member of Indiana’s congressional delegation since 2010.
Sara Reifenberg of Indianapolis, a 51-year-old former elementary teacher who now works at a floral business, said all the revelations about Bayh caused her to ponder whom to support, but she decided to back Bayh because of his performance as governor.
“Do you fault people for taking a job that they have connections in?” she said after casting her vote Friday. “I guess that’s how most everybody gets a job. His just ended up getting him a lot of money.”
David MacDonald, a Republican who previously voted for Bayh, said he decided to support Young because of Bayh’s 2010 vote supporting the federal health-care overhaul.
“I liked what he said early on,” said MacDonald, 63, a retired AT&T worker. “He did do more conservative things.”
Bayh has called all the attacks by Young a distraction and criticized him for campaigning against the 2008 auto bailout that rescued carmakers General Motors and Chrysler that employ thousands of Indiana workers.
“Congressman Young said, let ‘em go belly up,” Bayh said. “We don’t do that to our fellow Hoosiers.”
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