Democrats Polling For Bayh's Replacement

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee doesn't have a preferred candidate to replace retiring Sen. Evan Bayh just yet. Democrats are in the field with a poll, right now, testing Democrats against likely Republican nominee Dan Coats. According to top Democrats, the hope is that either Reps. Baron Hill or Brad Ellsworth will (a) poll well enough to have a basis to stand for the seat and (b) would be open to the possibility of disrupting their lives for nine months in order to do so.

Ellsworth, a former sheriff, is a member of the Blue Dog caucus. He's also pro life. Hill, a basketball legend in the Hoosier state, is a well-respected longtime servant from his state. A third candidate, Tamyra d'Ippolito, is trying to gather the signatures necessary to force her way onto the ballot.  One reason why Bayh retired to close to the deadline is that in doing so, he'd be able to give the state party the biggest say in picking his successor -- a small favor, to be sure, but one that they certainly appreciate.

If d'Ippolito becomes a darling of the Netroots, and if the White House backs another candidate, watch out. Already, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is blasting Democratic activist Jane Hamsher for using Survey USA to essentially poll-pressure Blue Dog Democrats into retirement.

Ironically, the Democrats' best chances for saving seats in the fall rests on the Republican Party's internal divisions. If Tea Party candidates field third party challengers -- like they're doing in Nevada -- and if they manage to muck up and hyperpolarize Republican primaries -- like they're doing in Kentucky, where Rand Paul leads the establishment Republican candidate in polls -- Democrats can capitalize on independents' inability to get excited about ultraconservative nominees -- or third party challengers splitting the conservative vote.

Bayh is an anomaly of sorts; he really grew to dislike the influence of liberal activists on his Senate colleagues. To him, these activists increased the cost of doing business. Reaching out to the other side became more risky than rallying around an ideological pole, even though that rallying around contributed to stasis. When it became clear to Bayh that the White House wasn't going to play his game -- wasn't going to sell out liberals at every turn -- Bayh decided he had had enough.

Overall, the scorecard remains mixed -- and though the path exists for Republicans to take over both house of Congress, it's absurdly early to give that possibility favorable odds. Republicans have to figure out what to do about their primaries and prevent third party challenges. They've got some vulnerable incumbents in states where Democrats have recently built electoral infrastructures. They're going to nominate, as Nate Silver says, "card-carrying members" of the GOP establishment in Missouri and Ohio. On the other hand, despite the protests and anxieties of their Tea Party wing, Republicans have so far managed to find good ideologically heterodox candidates to run in places like Illinois and Delaware -- and win in states like Massachusetts.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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