Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Did Evan Bayh "Show Us the Money"?

When Senator Evan Bayh stepped down, I was angry. He left Democrats in the lurch because D.C. legislators don’t play nice?!? It was the political equivalent of “taking my ball and going home.”

Then I really thought about it.

Partisans don’t own the souls of our elected officials. We’re entitled to have them serve in the right way while in office and to have them exit while mitigating collateral damage. That’s it. We can’t make them stay, in particular when they’re cut from the executive “get things done” cloth, not from the “bloviate on C-SPAN and demonize the other guy” exterior.

The exit timing was a Bayh masterstroke. By waiting until the last minute, Bayh faked Mike Pence and Todd Rokita into staying sidelined though polling showed Bayh wasn’t a sure thing. Also, the Senator ensured there would be no costly primary like the one that caused the party’s 2008 gubernatorial implosion.

Instead, Bayh threw the choice of who filled his shoes to the Indiana Democratic Party State Central Committee’s 33 voting members, and he did so only after ensuring 8th District Congressman Brad Ellsworth had the votes to replace him.

Had Senator Bayh waited until after his re-election to resign, Governor Mitch Daniels would have appointed his successor, who would have served until a special election. Democrats would not have gotten the seat back.

In fact, the only real downside to Evan Bayh’s departure was that Ellsworth had little time to raise money for a 2010 election.

But how big a problem could that be? After all, the GOP has been playing host to a resource-consuming, five-way free-for-all (Dan Coats, Marlin Stutzman, John Hostettler, Don Bates, Jr., and Richard Behney) and Bayh was holding roughly $12 million in the bank, even after refunding contributions designated for a general election in which he will no longer participate.

A maximum mitigation effort would have Bayh legally laundering his money by giving it to every federally-qualified candidate or party committee with even the remotest Indiana connection, knowing it would wander home to Ellsworth. Or Bayh could always donate it all to the state party. No, it couldn't go directly to Ellsworth, but once state party and all the legislative party committees were covered, they could start directing all their prospective donors to give to Ellsworth instead.

We all knew the Senator would tip the cup. We just didn't know whether he'd pour it out or just let some drips fall.

I'd be lying if I said I was optimistic. Despite his considerable accomplishments, objective party folk will tell you off-the-record that the Senator has a lackluster record sharing his wealth unless the recipient's campaign helps him.

I’ll never forget one candidate who who was offered then-Governor Bayh’s support. The candidate recounted that the Governor was cordial as they talked about Bayh’s appearance at a fundraiser and in some joint political communications. But as soon as talk turned to Bayh donating money directly from his extremely flush campaign committee, the candidate said, "I could literally hear (Bayh’s) sphincter muscles clinch.” This was a key Bayh ally making the request.

But couldn't his circumstances now make him more sensitive to the need to rise as the consummate team player?

We got an answer today when the Indiana Democratic Party issued a release saying that Evan Bayh donated one million dollars to the state party, "the largest donation ever by an individual not on the ballot." Bayh called it a "million dollar vote of confidence in Brad Ellsworth and Indiana Democrats."

Call the Senator a victim of his astonishing fundraising prowess, but that's not nearly enough, even for a guy hoarding money for a 2012 gubernatorial run.

I have no doubt the Senator will stump for and attend events for candidates, but Mitch Daniels is investing his personal and political capital in untold numbers of state representatives in an effort to control legislative maps.

As insane and ungrateful as this will sound, I have to ask. Why did Bayh only give a million?

No, Bayh hasn’t become President (or even Vice-President), but he is a shrewd political operator. Thus, while I know I’d donate to him if he is generous with his current funds, he undoubtedly knows too many Democrats have less kind spirits about his exit. Moreover, he's raised money nationally from people who were thinking about sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom some day. Now that he's coming back to a smaller pond, it will be harder to recapture the dollars.

Basically, any goodwill engendered by spreading his largesse might not be enough to help him get it back dollar for dollar. But if he keeps it, the cash plus his statewide standing makes him the prohibitive favorite for 2012 if he wants to make a go. If he rolls into 2011 with at least eight or nine million, there’s no way he doesn’t clear the Democratic gubernatorial field the millisecond he declares. More importantly, if Democrats retain the U.S. House of Representatives, with eight or nine million, Mike Pence has to think very carefully, in particular if he becomes minority leader. Without it, he's "back home again in Indiana."

Accordingly, Democrats who look to Senator Bayh as Santa Bayh in 2010 will find more lumps of coal in the stockings than presents, though there is always the possibility that he's checking the list twice with an eye toward giving more. I hope so.

Because if Democrats lose the Indiana House of Representatives and Evan Bayh still has $8 or $9 million in his account on November 3, 2010, a lot of Democrats won't be quick to forgive, even if we know he's our best chance to end the Daniels-Skillman administration.



Anonymous said...

Excellent post. While still not a Bayh fan based on his lack of support for the party in the last few years and his lack of support for President Obama, I am appreciative that he donated the money for Ellsworth. I truly believe that this
victory is within the grasp of Ellsworth. Yes, Bayh's retirement announcement came at a time that only permitted third tier GOP candidates. I still hope he does not run for governor.

Anonymous said...

As early as last year Bayh had promised State Party a million bucks for their operations this year, it just so happens that he decided not to run in the meantime. So, what he's trying to turn into supporting Ellsworth is just the money he promised a while ago, he is just trying to get as much credit for it as possible.

Anonymous said...

It's probably not going to matter. Ellsworth's down by a country mile right now and, barring something pretty major between now and November, I can't see him making up the difference.

Stranger things have happened. But being an "in-office" candidate with unemployment up there in 10% land, voting on a seminal bill that enjoyed roughly 35% support, and spotting your opponent a 15 point lead out of the gate....

...it's just not likely.

Marycatherine Barton said...

I am just heartsick that last week, Senator Even Bayh made statements that were very hostile toward Iran, and I certainly do not support Ellsworth's stands on foreign policy. If they can't be as reasonable as the Honorable Ron Paul is, re aggressive wars, I wish they would at least be impartial. No more war! Bring the troops home.