Today Sen Evan Bayh (D-IN) met with a small group of Indiana bloggers in an ongoing attempt by the Senator to reach out to alternative forms of media. Blogger Hoosierplew (written by Shawn Plew) was kind enough to post the audio recordings here. This isn’t the first blogger meeting Bayh’s had, and judging from my discussions with his staffers it won’t be the last.
Sen. Bayh’s presidential aspirations are no secret. In 2005 alone he visited 22 states, with two visits to both Iowa and New Hampshire. His PAC also raised more money than any other potential Democratic candidate during the first six months of 2005, along with continued fundraising success in ’06. He offered a refreshingly candid response about a possible run when he said, “It’s no secret that I’m doing all of the things one needs to do” to run for president.
Bayh’s approach on the campaign trail is best summarized in a campaign bumper sticker he suggested to the Des Moines Register: “I kind of like ‘Bayh-partisan.'” This theme of partisan reconcilitation was echoed numerous times during our lunch today and it will no doubt form the bedrock of his presidential campaign.
But in an incredibly diverse party Bayh’s soft, moderate approach requires a tough balancing act. Anyone attempting to win the party’s nomination must first convince mainstream Democrats that he’s a champion for their issues. That was no doubt a factor in his vote against Bush’s tax cuts, against drilling in the Arctic, and for requiring gun-show background checks (in 2004, the National Rifle Association gave him a D-minus). He’s even garnered an 88% rating from Planned Parenthood and a 50% rating from NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League).
In addition to bill votes, Bayh has opposed numerous crucial Bush nominees, all of which should help his Democratic street cred. He voted against Condoleeza Rice’s confirmation as Secretary of State because “she has been a principle architect of policy errors that have tragically undermined our prospects for success” in Iraq. He also voted against confirming John Ashcroft as attorney general and John Roberts and Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court.
Yet all of this “triangulation,” as it has been called in the past, can leave a voter wondering about its sincerety. Whether or not you agree with John McCain’s “maverick” positions, few seem to doubt he’s genuine. Is Bayh equally sincere? That’s why I wanted to dig deeper into Evan’s “Bayh-partisanship” by asking about specific policy positions. But Bayh, saying he was wary of ideology, chose instead to speak generally about an “agenda for progress.” Roughly 4 minutes into answering the question he did vaguely list “jobs, health care, and national security” as possible issues in ’08, but there were no specifics and no concrete proposals.
Presidential contenders almost always hold off from too many specifics until the months leading up to the election, but you still have an idea of what’s important to them, and the values they’ll apply to a given issue. With Bayh the only ideology appears to be a lack of ideology. That may help a him win votes in a red state, but it doesn’t instill the type of passion and energy that wins national campaigns.
In my mind this is Bayh’s biggest hurdle, and indeed the challenge facing the national Democratic party. Americans are disillusioned with Bush’s leadership, but unsure about their alternative. That attitude will get Democrats a few more House seats and perhaps even a president in ’08. But it won’t inspire a lasting movement. That is Bayh’s challenge.