The wait for Superman is over for Indiana Democrats. The man who has won five elections for them in a persistently Republican state has decided not to seek his old job as governor, leaving lots of legitimate candidates but a dearth of valuable personal superpower.
At least this time, outgoing U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh gave notice. His shocking announcement last February that he would not seek re-election left the party scrambling for a replacement, galvanized the campaign of Republican Dan Coats and perhaps cost Democrats a congressional seat as Rep. Brad Ellsworth quit to run a losing race against Coats.
Speculation ran rampant. Would Bayh retire from politics for good, perhaps becoming a university or foundation president? Would he bide his time and try again when the GOP wave had passed? Would he seek the governorship he'd held from 1989 to 1997, for itself or as a launching pad for the presidency?
Cynical interpretations likewise abounded. But Bayh insisted he was leaving the Senate in search of other ways to serve and in revulsion over Washington partisanship. When he told The Star's Mary Beth Schneider last Saturday he was reluctantly forgoing the governor's race as well, he gave family as the reason.
Whatever Bayh wants to do and why, he has time and youth (he's 54) on his side. He has national stature, having been short-listed as President Barack Obama's prospective running mate in 2008.
And he has money -- about $10 million in his election committee and more than $1 million in his political action committee for other candidates. He is expected to draw upon those resources, as well as his vaunted campaigning prowess, to help various Indiana Democrats, including the 2011 Indianapolis mayoral candidate.
The race to succeed Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is nearing his two-term limit, figured to be lively in any case. Two high-profile Republicans, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence and Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, are considered likely candidates; as are several Democrats, including Ellsworth, Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapel and U.S. Reps. Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill, the latter of whom lost his re-election bid this year.
The state of the economy and the stature of the president will have the largest say in whether Indiana retains the blue hue it took on in 2008 for the first time in 44 years. Surely, the Bayh name at the top of the Statehouse ticket would have leapt some tall buildings for the Democrats on its own. Now they must get their job done on the ground; which may be just as well, for them and for the electorate.