Democrat Baron Hill is dropping out of the Indiana Senate race and will be replaced as the Democratic nominee by former Sen. Evan Bayh, upending the race in a state Republicans expected to hold easily this fall. Bayh, who is also a former governor of Indiana, still has approximately $9.3 million in a federal campaign account that has sat nearly dormant since he left the Senate in 2010.
Early last year, Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) announced his retirement plans, creating an unexpected open U.S. Senate race in Indiana. Almost immediately, Democratic Hoosiers reached out to former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who retired from Capitol Hill in 2010. He thought about it, before bowing out of consideration last summer.
Quite a bit can change in a year. Politico reported this morning on a major shake-up in Indiana's Senate race.
Note, while several news organizations have reported on Bayh's comeback bid, this has not yet been independently confirmed by NBC News. I confirmed with a DSCC source this morning, however, that former Rep. Baron Hill (D) is ending his candidacy.
By all accounts, Hill was an underdog in his upcoming race against Rep. Todd Young (R), but Bayh changes the equation: the Indiana Democrat remains a popular figure in the state, and with over $9 million in the bank, the former senator and governor will have plenty of resources to run a strong campaign.
In a 30-year career in Indiana politics, Bayh, whose father was also a longtime senator, has never lost a race.
Bayh's apparent change of heart, of course, did not occur in a vacuum. A year ago, when he initially decided not to launch a comeback bid, Bayh very likely assumed Republicans were well positioned to excel in 2016. Now, however, the winds have shifted direction, creating an opportunity where one did not previously exist.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but Bayh wouldn't make a move like this -- especially so late in the process -- unless the conditions favored Democrats. In this sense, if the reports are true, we can see Bayh as a weathervane, pointing in a direction Republicans won't like.
As for what the former senator has been up to since leaving Capitol Hill, the Democratic Hoosier, now 60 years old, had talked about possibly returning to Indiana to teach. That didn't exactly happen: Bayh put his political experience to use by going into lobbying.
This might seem like the sort of thing that could hurt his electoral chances, but let's not forget who he'd be replacing: Dan Coats was a successful corporate lobbyist who no longer lived in Indiana in 2010, but he nevertheless ran and won this Senate seat six years ago.
Indeed, by some measures, it's a rather striking turn of events: In 2010, Evan Bayh retired from the Senate and became a lobbyist. He was replaced by Dan Coats, who left a career as a lobbyist to join the Senate. In 2016, Dan Coats is retiring -- whether or not he'll return to lobbying is unclear -- and he soon may be replaced by Evan Bayh, who is retiring from lobbying in the hopes of reclaiming his old seat. [Update: In 1999, when Bayh took office, he filled a vacancy left by ... Dan Coats.]
As for the Senate map, control of the chamber next year is very much up in the air, but these new developments turn Indiana's open seat from a likely Republican victory to a true 2016 toss-up.