John Mellencamp: Replacement for Evan Bayh in Senate?

Grassroots efforts are under way to draft rock musician John Mellencamp as a replacement for retiring Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana.

Future senator? Musician John Mellencamp performed during the 24th annual Farm Aid benefit concert in St. Louis last fall.

As Indiana Democratic leaders scramble to replace Evan Bayh in the US Senate race, one name is emerging from left field: rock musician John Mellencamp.

When questioned Wednesday, Mellencamp publicist Bob Merlis responded to the Monitor via e-mail this way: “As of now, there is no response.” The lack of an answer — which was the same given to the Indianapolis Star Wednesday — is helping the Internet rumor mill churn even faster.

Grassroots efforts are urging Mr. Mellencamp to take the leap. On MSNBC Tuesday, Katrina Van Heuvel, editor of The Nation, suggested that Mellencamp could be a “populist candidate” as someone “who worked very hard for farmers who faced foreclosures” and “a Heartland son of Indiana.”

Chicago film critic Roger Ebert suggested a Mellencamp candidacy via Twitter Monday. A Facebook page dedicated to drafting Mellencamp as a candidate had 940 members by mid-Wednesday. An online petition via CitizenSpeak calls the singer “someone who can win this November” and “a staunch advocate for Hoosiers of all backgrounds.”

Mellencamp is revered in his home state, where he continues to live, record music, and raise a family. Best known for hits like “Pink Houses,” “Jack and Diane,” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” he is also a staunch Democrat who campaigned for Barack Obama.

Along with Neil Young and Willie Nelson, he is also one of the cofounders of Farm Aid, the annual music festival and organization that is in its 25th year of raising money for family-run farms.

Mellencamp's music is known for its populist themes, which have roots in his upbringing in rural Indiana, where his grandparents were farmers. In 2003, he posted a letter to, which called the invasion of Iraq “a political hijacking.”

The letter – also credited to his wife, Elaine – defended his position with the following: “Before a single bomb was ever dropped, some of us, formerly called the 'anti-American and unpatriotic,' have questioned or opposed this war. Now, each day, as the dust settles and the truth slowly surfaces, more and more people come to the inevitable conclusion of what a debacle this whole war was.”

Despite a long career as a hitmaker, Mellencamp has kept a low profile in recent years. He has not toured and is releasing albums that are more folk in tone and politically charged.

His stature in the state is formidable, but not enough for some experts to say that he has a chance if picked to run in the November midterm election.

“I’d be amazed,” says Brian S. Vargus, who teaches political science at Indiana University. “That would almost be as shocking as Evan’s timing” not to run for his Senate seat again.

“Indiana politics is a strange animal,” Mr. Vargus admits, adding this about a possible Mellencamp run: “If it could happen, anything could.”


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