Obama's First Challenger in 2012
With his presidency already in ruins (Don Imus called it "Jimmy Carter II this morning; welcome to the party, I-Man), Barack Obama won't be lacking for Republican opposition in 2012. If you believe that Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney--and others--will sit out the next presidential election, we've got a bridge in Brooklyn you might want to purchase.
Yet, Mr. Obama could take some solace in the willingness of his party to stand behind him. Virtually all went along with his socialist schemes, despite the political risks. And when the polls went south (and Democrats began announcing their retirements from office), most bowed out gracefully, offering limited criticism of the President and his policies. Mr. Obama could also find comfort in the fact that none of the Democratic retirees posed a threat to his re-nomination in two years.
But all of that changed today, when Indiana's Evan Bayh announced he would not seek a third term in the Senate.
The news was stunning, to say the least. Among the Democratic incumbents up for re-election this fall, Mr. Bayh was considered one of the least vulnerable, though he certainly faced a bruising re-election battle.
In fact, while Republicans in other states were lining up to run against vulnerable Democratic incumbents, there was some question as to whom the GOP might pit against Bayh. Popular Republican Congressman Mike Pence took a pass on the race a couple of weeks ago. And, former Senator Dan Coats jumped into the fray only after it rumors of Bayh's retirement began to make the rounds. Readers may recall that Coats bowed out of a re-election bid in 1998, rather than face Mr. Bayh in the general election.
Interestingly, Mr. Coats isn't currently registered to vote in his home state, although that "problem" can be easily remedied. Since leaving the Senate more than a decade ago, Coats has worked as a lobbyist in Washington. He also served as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush, from 2001-2005.
As for Mr. Bayh, we agree (for once) with Charles Lane of the Washington Post, who believes that the "retiring" Senator is trying to avoid the looming Democratic train wreck, and re-position himself for 2012:
Quitting the Senate was a no-lose move for the presidentially ambitious Bayh, since he can now crawl away from the political wreckage for a couple of years, plausibly alleging that he tried to steer the party in a different direction -- and then be perfectly positioned to mount a centrist primary challenge to Obama in 2012, depending on circumstances.
There will be those Democrats who bid good riddance to Bayh and his coal-burning-state apostasy about cap and trade, etc. If so, they won’t need a very big tent to contain the celebration. On a more pragmatic view, Bayh’s dramatic vote of no-confidence in his own party’s leadership looks like another Massachusetts-sized political earthquake for the Democrats. Not only does it imperil the president’s short-term hopes of passing health care and other major legislation this year. It also makes it much more likely that the Republicans can pick up Bayh’s Senate seat in normally red Indiana and, with it, control of the Senate itself. If present trends continue, November could turn into a Republican rout.
Of course, there is one problem with this "theory." The Democratic base--including all those voters who show up for the early primaries and caucuses--has veered so far to the left, you can only wonder how much support Mr. Bayh would attract. On the other hand, if the economy remains in the tank (and the Obama Presidency remains a disaster area), then Evan Bayh could run well in states like Iowa, New Hampshire and the Super Tuesday primaries in the south. At that point, Mr. Obama would be in serious trouble, and the race could tilt in the challenger's favor.
Senator may also view 2012 as a "make or break" year for his presidential ambitions, despite long odds. If he waits for 2016, he would likely face a Republican incumbent, an improving economy, and a still-fractured Democratic base. Putting off a bid until 2020 would leave him out of the national spotlight for a decade, relegating him to "has been" status, and greatly impacting his fund-raising abilities.
Defeating an incumbent president from your own party is no easy task; Ted Kennedy couldn't prevent Jimmy Carter from winning re-nomination in 1980, and Ronald Reagan fell short trying to unseat Gerald Ford four years earlier. Evan Bayh would face similar obstacles in challenging Barack Obama in 2012.
But Mr. Bayh has rarely expressed doubts about his own abilities. The Senator has long viewed himself as presidential material, and his departure from Congress won't change that. He will also get plenty of encouragement from his fellow Democrats, anxious to find anyone who can rescue them from the S.S. Obama.
Put another way, we be greatly surprised if Evan Bayh didn't form some sort of exploratory committee and start visiting places like Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida on a recurring basis. He's still a long-shot to win in 2012 (and that's being charitable), but his decision to leave the Senate sends a clear signal to the anti-Obama elements in the Democratic Party. Anyone who doesn't want to go down with Captain Obama needs to find--and get behind--a candidate willing to take on a failing president. With today's announcement, Evan Bayh becomes the first Democrat to move in that direction.
He won't be the last.