Evan Bayh’s retirement does strike a huge blow to Democratic hopes of retaining that Indiana Senate seat this fall. But Bayh’s announcement was timed to minimize the damage for Democrats. Bayh waited until the day before signatures are due to qualify for the state primary ballots. That means the state Democratic party bosses will get to pick their own candidate rather than take the chance that a liberal primary electorate will nominate a Democrat too far to the left to win. And it also probably freezes the Republican field in place, preventing Mike Pence or Mitch Daniels from taking another look.
That may not be enough to keep Republicans from taking the seat. Evan Bayh was the Democrats’ strongest candidate by far and his decision to retire suggests — protestations to the contrary aside — that even he wasn’t sure he could keep the seat. While a Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll showed Bayh in good shape, it assumed a 2008-like electorate. An earlier Rasmussen poll making different assumptions showed Bayh losing to Pence and barely ahead of John Hostettler. Nevertheless, Bayh did try to make the best of a bad situation for Democrats.