Will hard-campaigning Birch Bayh become the first United States senator in Indiana's history ever to win a fourth term? It all depends on how successful GOP Senate nominee Dan Quayle is in convincing voters that 18 years of representation in Washington by one man -- particularly a "free spending . . . McGovern-Kennedy liberal," as Mr. Quayle describes Senator Bayh -- is enough.
The irony is that Bayh won his first term in 1962 by campaigning on the same "time for a change" theme. He toppled three-term Republican incumbent Sen. Homer Capehart. And it was just four years ago that Bayh's Democratic colleague , Vance Hartke, lost his bid for a fourth term in the Senate to former Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar.
Bayh has always won by a slim margin in this traditionally Republican state, and the race this time is expected to be exceptionally close. Some polls count it a tossup.
What makes this race a particularly tough one for the Democratic incumbent is the high unemployment rate is this highly unionized and industrialized state and the apparently widespread conservative mood among voters fueled by anti-Bayh ads sponsored by such groups as the National conservative Political Action committee (NCPAC) and by Rep. Quayle's forthright attacks on his opponent's liberalism.
GOP presidential nominee Ronald Reagan is expected to win a landslide victory in Indiana. One large concern of Democrats is that traditional supporters such as rank-and-file union members may be so lukewarm in their preference for President Carter that they do not show up at the polls at all.
Veteran analysts of Indiana politics are reluctant to count Bayh out. They point out that he is a singularly hard-driving, charismatic campaigner who blends his Washington knowledge and experience with the right amount of Hoosier folksiness.
In this campaign Senator Bayh is capitalizing on how he has helped Indiana farmers and such industries in the state such as steel and coal which have been hard pressed by imports and environmental regulations as steel and coal. Though he technically has raised more funds for his campaign than has his opponent, he tells voters he is "running for his life" because of the well-financed opposition efforts of outsiders such as NCPAC which have targeted him for defeat.