The back story on this has to be fascinating.
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind) stunned the political world Monday when he announced he wouldn't run for re-election. Though he's been in politics a long time (two terms as governor, two terms in the Senate) he is still, at 54, a (relatively) young man. He has a near $13 million war chest, and was the favorite though no longer the prohibitive favorite of past years.
The surprise announcement shifts the Indiana Senate race from a likely Democratic retention to a tossup or leaning GOP takeover, depending on who the major party candidates turn out to be.
The shift brings to eight the number of states in which Republicans have at least an even chance of a pickup (Delaware, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, North Dakota, Colorado and Nevada).
That could put the GOP within two surprises (perhaps in Washington state, where a Rasmussen poll released Monday showed Republican Dino Rossi with a two point lead over Sen. Patty Murray, should he choose to run; or in New York, where publishing magnate Mort Zuckerman is contemplating a challenge to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand) of taking control of the Senate.
Or perhaps just one surprise, should Sen. Joseph Lieberman, nominally an Independent, choose to caucus with the Republicans.
"The sky is officially falling," Martin Frost, a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Politico webzine.
Nearly as stunning as Sen. Bayh's decision was the timing of his announcement. Under Indiana law, candidates for the U.S. Senate have until Feb. 16 to gather at least 500 signatures in each of the state's 9 Congressional districts on nominating petitions. Sen. Bayh gave a prospective Democratic successor just a little more than 24 hours in which to gather them.
If no Democrat has filed the requisite number of signatures by the deadline, the party may choose a nominee by caucus. That nominee, presumably, would be one of two "moderate" Democrats elected to Congress in 2006, Baron Hill or Brad Ellsworth.
The fly in that ointment could be, notes National Review's Jim Geraghty, Tamyra d'Ippolito, an art cafe owner who wants to run as a Democrat. Ms. d'Ippolito told the student newspaper at the University of Indiana Friday she was roughly 1,000 signatures short.
The best thing Indiana Republicans could do before the deadline is to sign Ms. d'Ippolito's petitions. If she's the Democratic nominee, the seat's an all but certain GOP pickup.
The leading Republican candidates are Dan Coats, who retired from the Senate rather than run against Mr. Bayh 12 years ago; former Rep. John Hostettler, and state senator Marlin Stutzman.
As governor, Mr. Bayh was a moderate. In the senate he talked like one, but voted for most elements of President Obama's very left wing agenda, which is not popular in Indiana.
Sen. Bayh said he was retiring chiefly because of his frustration with increasing partisanship in Washington. Most suspect there are other, more compelling reasons. But what might they be?
A recent poll commissioned by the left wing blog Daily Kos showed Sen. Bayh with a double digit lead over Mr. Coats and Mr. Hostettler. But earlier polls by the more reliable Rasmussen Reports showed him trailing Rep. Mike Pence (who declined to run), and only three points ahead of Mr. Hostettler. (Mr. Coats hadn't entered the race at the time of the Rasmussen poll.) Could Sen. Bayh's private polling indicate he was likely to be drowned in an anti-Obama tsunami?
Could there be a scandal about to emerge? Does he or a member of his family have an undisclosed health problem? Did he think this was a good time to cash in on the big lobbying bucks?
One thing we know about Evan Bayh is that he'd very much like to be president. His retirement makes it more likely that one day he might be. If President Obama's popularity continues to fall, he could challenge him from the right in the 2012 primaries. If not, he could run for governor again in 2012 (popular GOP governor Mitch Daniels is term limited), and run for president from that post in 2016, when Mr. Obama either will have been defeated for re-election, or be term limited.
Either way, he'll be out of the graveyard the Senate is proving to be for ambitious Democrats.