Grow? I already am.
February 18, 2010
Senator Retires, and Voters, Too, Grow Dismayed
By SUSAN SAULNY
HAMMOND, Ind. — Brent Kruse, a retired railroad conductor, says he is an independent-minded, loosely affiliated Democrat who “votes for the man, not the party.” In the last presidential election, he said, he flirted with the idea of casting a ballot for a Republican, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, before throwing his support behind Barack Obama. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana was part of the reason Mr. Kruse chose Mr. Obama.
“This is a Republican state and he’s a Democrat, so that tells you what people think of him,” said Mr. Kruse, 69. “He’s been a very good man for this state, and I do wish he had stuck it out.”
Of all the elected officials, political analysts, and party bosses across the country who were stunned by Mr. Bayh’s announcement on Monday that he would not seek re-election to a third term, perhaps no group was left more flabbergasted than Mr. Bayh’s constituents, particularly here in the working-class towns of northwest and central Indiana that helped make it a blue state — at least temporarily — in 2008.
Now, with Mr. Bayh planning to leave Congress, citing his disillusionment with unyielding partisanship and legislative gridlock, a good bit of disillusionment has settled on Indiana, too.
“This shocked me. Honest to God, it did,” Mr. Kruse said. “I did not see it coming. And every time we lose a good Democrat, it hurts the system as far as getting anything done.”
Mr. Bayh, 54, a centrist former governor and son of a former senator, was among those Mr. Obama considered for vice president. He campaigned across the state for Mr. Obama, introducing him time and again, and the personal touch from such a respected local figure seemed to help turn the tide for the Democrats. What will happen here in the next presidential cycle is anyone’s guess now, as is the more pressing Congressional primary this spring.
“It’s very disappointing that someone so dedicated has reached the point that he’s disenchanted with politics,” said Vivian Sallie, 59, a television executive in South Bend, who described herself as a longtime supporter of Mr. Bayh. “I feel let down by the situation our country is in. I feel that it’s our state’s loss and a loss for the country.”
JoAnna Clay, a homemaker in South Bend, added: “It’s a really sad situation. He was the voice for a lot of us, and you got the feeling that he really cared. I think there are not many people in Washington who really care, and that’s the problem. They’d rather fight. But he got tired of fighting. There’s definitely some discouragement here,” she said.
Kate Blakely, a cafe manager from Mishawaka, struggled with the timing of the announcement, just days before Mr. Bayh was scheduled to film a campaign commercial at her workplace. “One day he was coming, and the next thing we heard, everything was off,” said Ms. Blakely, 25. “It just seemed kind of random.”
And Tyler Bergin, who works in sales for a cellular company, said he also found it hard to accept Mr. Bayh’s timing. “I can’t understand why he stepped down,” Mr. Bergin said. “It’s unfortunate. If he didn’t want to run again, I guess it’s his choice. He doesn’t owe us anything. But,” Mr. Bergin, 28, continued, “it was not a very good strategic move because it leaves the seat open at such a bad time for the Democrats.”
The filing deadline to qualify for the ballot was Tuesday, and, left with one day to scramble, Democrats failed to submit the petitions needed to qualify for the Senate race, meaning that no Democrat will be on the primary ballot. Instead, party leaders will pick a general-election contender later this year.
Was he sticking it to the party?
Barrett Berry, the chairman of a nonprofit economic development group in South Bend, said he was troubled that Mr. Bayh’s decision did not leave time for anyone to run for the seat. “I’m going to be loyal, but I am bothered that he didn’t give others the opportunity,” Mr. Berry said, echoing concerns of other Indiana Democrats.
Meanwhile, five Republicans qualified for the primary, among them former Senator Daniel R. Coats, Mr. Bayh’s predecessor. Republicans expressed optimism about recapturing a seat in a state that traditionally leans to the right and about possibly adding an Indiana example to a national narrative that shows Democrats struggling to hold on to their majorities in the House and Senate in the 15 months since Mr. Obama’s election.
“I had a very positive reaction to his decision,” said Ben vonBergen, 18, as he sipped coffee with a friend, Mike Houghtaling, 35, who also seemed pleased. “Sometimes I get the impression that elected officials are just trying to hold on to their jobs,” said Mr. Houghtaling, who works at a camp for underprivileged children in South Bend and describes himself as politically conservative. “If he really wanted to see change, I’m glad he did something about it” by not running.
Mr. Houghtaling said he shared a sense of frustration about Washington and could understand Mr. Bayh’s personal dilemma about being an unhappy participant in a dysfunctional system, particularly as Democratic leaders pushed over the past year for big-budget legislation. (Mr. Bayh had grown increasingly isolated as he warned Democratic leaders that costly legislation was bothering independent voters.) “The problem for me,” Mr. Houghtaling said, “is that Republicans tax and spend as much as anyone. It’s frustrating.”
For her part, Ms. Clay, 22, said she used to see Mr. Bayh as part of the solution, but not anymore. “True enough, if he felt like nothing was getting done,” she said, “then he should have stayed to get things done.”