Probably the biggest blow to the Democratic Party this year was the surprise announcement in February that Indiana Senator Evan Bayh would not seek re-election. Like North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan before him, he cited the partisan rancor in Washington as the reason for his decision. The timing of Bayh’s announcement, some say, left the Democrats in Indiana with their pants down although Bayh is too much of a politician to play that game. Instead, because of the timing, it was too late for the Democrats to organize a primary and the Democrtaic powers that be, probably by Bayh’s design, chose 8th District Congressman Brad Ellsworth as their candidate. Ellsworth, in fact, was chosen because Bayh endorsed him. Apparently, the Democrats felt that endorsement alone would suffice for Ellsworth through to the general election.
On the Republican side, Dan Coats- a former Senator, lobbyist, and Ambassador- has to win his primary.
Ellsworth considers himself a Blue Dog Democrat. However, a look at his voting record in Congress shows that on the social issues, he does veer to the right, but on the more important fiscal issues this year, he tends to vote on the liberal side. Although he originally voted against the stimulus, he eventually ended up voting for the modified, final version giving the impression he caved into pressure from Nancy Pelosi. More inportantly, he voted for Obamacare, breaking with other Blue Dog Democrats. This vote, more than any other, is the weight around the neck of Ellsworth. Ellsworth invariably clutches to the fact that he exacted major concessions in that bill regarding prohibiting federal funding of abortions. That is all well and good but this election is about the economy and an expanding federal government, not abortion, no matter how well-meaning or politically-advantageous Ellsworth portrays himself in this area.
So it is really no surprise that Coats has opened an insurmountable lead in the polls. In fact, he currently holds an RCP average 17-point lead. Since the match-up polling began in February, Coats has led Ellsworth by double digits each month. And although Ellsworth has done fine in the fundraising department, Coats has kept pace. Recently, Ellsworth pulled back on some advertisements in order to reserve precious resources in anticipation of a last-minute Republican advertising assault. Instead, he has resorted to a series of news conferences for free publicity while bring in Evan Bayh to vouch for his moderate credentials.
Part of the problem in Indiana is the fact that Democrats overestimated the gains they made in the state in 2006 and 2008. And they falsely believed they turned a corner when the state narrowly went to Obama in 2008. However, Indiana is basically a conservative state and a practical state and its citizens consider Obama and the Democratic Party neither conservative nor practical. And with unemployment around the national average and even higher in certain key areas, the chances of Ellsworth are even further diminished.
Of Indiana’s nine Congressional districts, four are Republican-controlled. Three are safely Republican- the 4th, 5th, and 6th. The other- the Third- is currently vacant after Mark Souder resigned in light of his extramarital affair. Located in the northeastern part of the state, this is one of the most Republican districts in Indiana with only the 5th rated higher. The Democrats have recycled Tom Hayhurst who ran against and lost to Souder in 2006, Although on the social issues he is conservative, a look at his website indicates he would be a reliable vote for Obama’s initiatives (health care, green jobs). His Republican opponent Marlin Stutzman is the opposite of him on most issues of importance. It is a safe bet that the winner of this race will be a referendum on the Obama agenda. Additionally, Steve Buyer is retiring in the 4th District and, like the Third, it is safely Republican as Todd Rokita is expected to win here.
That leaves the five Democratic-controlled districts of which only two are safe- the 1st and the 7th. Both are urban districts with large minority populations. In fact, they are the only two districts where the minority population exceeds 10%.
In the Second District, currently held by Joe Donnelly, he faces a serious challenge from Republican state lawmaker Jackie Walorski. Obamacare is quite unpopular in Indiana and Donnelly’s vote in favor of it has placed a target on his back early in the campaign. Walorski’s positions should energize the traditional Republican base and her fiscal views should draw in TEA Party people also. And although Donnelly has outraised her, Walorski remains within 7 points of him in the polls thus far. Factoring in anti-incumbent sentiment and with Coats at the top of the ticket, I would put Walorski even closer, if not ahead come November 2nd. This will be another of those races to watch on Election Day to see just how bad the day will be for the Democratic Party. Perhaps Donnelly’s best hope is for increased youth voter turnout in the area of South Bend and his alma mater, Notre Dame.
The 8th District- being vacated by Ellsworth- lies in the southwestern corner of the state along the Kentucky/southern Illinois borders. This is conservative territory in the best of times. And although currently held by a Democrat, the district is not known as the “bloody Eighth” for no reason. Constituents make a habit of ousting the incumbent party with regularity and the races are traditionally close ones. Some even argue that Democrats here are more conservative than their Republican counterparts in other parts of Indiana. And while Democratic candidate Trent Van Haaften is trying to portray himself as a moderate in the Ellsworth/Bayh mold, his Republican opponent, Larry Buschon, leads by 4 points in this Republican leaning district. Although about even in fundraising, given the other dynamics in play this year and the district’s propensity to throw out incumbent parties, it would appear that Buschon is headed for victory and by more than 4 points. Hence, Ellsworth’s decision to seek Bayh’s seat has cost the Democratic Party in Indiana not only a Senate seat, but a House seat.
That leaves only the highly contested Ninth District currently held by Baron Hill. Located in Indiana’s southeast corner bordering conservative Kentucky and conservative areas of Ohio, Hill faces the political fight of his life. He is opposed by Todd Young and despite Hill out-spending Young by a 5-1 margin, the race is a virtual tie, although Young has the momentum moving into November. Also, Hill’s vote for Obamacare and his unabashed support afterwards has hurt his chances. Then there is that infamous viral YouTube video of Hill confronting a student filming one of his town hall meetings. And finally, although Hill fancies himself a Blue Dog Democrat, his votes in favor of the Obama stimulus, cap-and-trade and Obamacare have given Young ample ammunition to torpedo those alleged credentials.
In conclusion, Bayh’s decision not to run again, allegedly because of the tenor of politics in Washington, set up a double loss for Democrats in Indiana. Had he run, given the name recognition and modicum of moderation, he may have prevailed, even against Dan Coats. And its quite obvious from where I sit that Bayh was more motivated with an eye on the Governor’s race in 2012 to succeed popular Republican Governor Mitch Daniels who may, in turn, have his eyes on an even higher office. In addition, Donnelly and Hill look headed for defeat. The fact is that the Democratic Party overestimated their strength and abilities in the Hoosier State and this year, Indiana’s true colors will prevail. And those colors are not blue or even purple.