As Evan Bayh bows out, Democrats scramble to save Senate control

With the announcement that Sen. Evan Bayh is not running for reelection, the GOP has a good shot at taking over yet another Senate seat from Democrats in the November midterms.

By , Staff writer

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    Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., speaks with the reporters after a news conference announcing he will not seek re-election in Indianapolis, Monday.
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Suddenly, the Democrats are faced with a growing, though still outside, possibility that they could lose control of the Senate in the November midterms.

The House moved within range of a remotely possible GOP takeover weeks ago, as the steady drumbeat of Democratic retirements and negative polls has expanded the playing field for Republicans.

Now, with the stunning announcement that Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana is not running for reelection, the Republicans have an excellent shot at taking over yet another seat. That moves the party one step closer to being within range of taking control of the Senate, if the Republicans are able to take full advantage of their strong position.

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Political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg still projects the Democrats keep control of the Senate – though well down from their current 59-41 majority.

“Nine months ago, it appeared that the Democrats were going to gain Senate seats,” Mr. Rothenberg told CBS News. “And now we’re talking about the Republicans gaining four, six, seven, maybe eight Senate seats.”

The Cook Political Report, another nonpartisan handicapper, now lists 10 Democratic Senate seats within range of possible Republican pickup. Two seats – Barbara Boxer’s in California and the one being vacated by Christopher Dodd in Connecticut – “lean Democrat.” Five are called tossups: Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Michael Bennet of Colorado, the Illinois seat being vacated by Roland Burris (and once held by President Obama), Harry Reid of Nevada, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

The Indiana seat currently held by Senator Bayh is now “lean Republican,” and two seats are “solid Republican” – the North Dakota seat being vacated by Byron Dorgan and the Delaware seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden, now held by placeholder Ted Kaufman.

Of course, it’s only February, and the Democrats – and the Obama White House – have many months to turn their fortunes around.

But it wasn’t too long ago, 2006, that the Democrats needed to win every competitive race to take over control of the Senate – and they did. Two years later, they pulled off another sweep to build a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority. That ended in January, when Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts pulled off a stunning upset in the special election to fill the seat once held by Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy.

For the Republicans to gain effective control of the Senate this fall, they would need to go from 41 seats to 51. If the Senate winds up in a 50-50 tie, Mr. Biden, as president of the Senate, can break ties in the Democrats’ favor.

For now, Washington is still reeling from the Bayh bombshell, which no one outside Bayh’s family knew was coming. Particularly shocking was the fact that Bayh made his announcement the day before the filing deadline for candidates, and no one had the requisite signatures to qualify. So the Indiana Democratic Party will probably end up choosing someone to carry the party banner – a less-than-ideal turn in a system where primary-tested candidates have more legitimacy.

In his retirement announcement Monday, Bayh made clear his disgust with Washington, especially Congress. “There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress, too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem solving,” he said.

Tuesday morning, in an interview on CBS, he went further: “You know,” he said, “if I could create one job in the private sector by helping to grow a business, that would be one more than Congress has created in the last six months.”

The comment seemed as much a slap at the White House as at Congress. The Obama administration has spent months touting how many jobs it has saved or created with its policies, though the numbers vary, depending on which agency is speaking.

But Bayh still had kind words for Mr. Obama on Tuesday. “He is making a sincere effort to try to bring the two sides together,” he told CBS.

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