INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Democratic state committee selected former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh on Friday evening to be the party’s candidate for the Senate seat he gave up six years ago.
“The divisiveness and the partisanship in Washington has gotten even worse over the last six years, and that’s something we need to change,” Bayh said.
The committee met in private to elect Bayh over his only challenger, little-known perennial candidate Bob Kern of Indianapolis. The results of the vote were not released.
Bayh made a surprise return to Indiana politics last week after a recruitment push by national Democrats and former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill’s decision to withdraw as the Democratic nominee for the seat held by Republican Sen. Dan Coats, who’s retiring.
“I’m ready to get to work on winning this campaign, but more importantly, getting to work for Hoosiers,” Bayh said in a statement.
Even before formally being added to the ballot, Bayh has started spending some of his millions in campaign cash on television ads for his Senate comeback bid.
Bayh’s entry into the race could have national importance as Democrats try to regain control of the chamber this fall.
Hill was not considered a strong candidate to take on GOP nominee U.S. Rep. Todd Young, who was backed by Republican establishment figures in the May primary against tea party favorite Rep. Marlin Stutzman.
Young and other Republicans have criticized Bayh for remaining in Washington, where he has been a partner at the McGuireWoods law firm and joined several corporate boards since leaving the Senate. Young calls Bayh a Washington “super-lobbyist.”
“Since 2010, he’s enriched himself as a lobbyist for corporate interests at one of the world’s largest lobbying firms,” Young campaign manager Trevor Foughty said in a statement after the committee selected Bayh.
The 60-year-old Bayh, was a two-term governor before winning his first Senate election in 1998, will have advantages of name identification and campaign cash over Young.
Federal Election Commission reports show Bayh had nearly $9.5 million in his campaign account at the end of June, while Young’s campaign says it had about $1.2 million in the bank.
Bayh cited frustration with Washington gridlock when he retired, but began airing TV ads around the state last week in which he says that partisanship has become even worse and he “can’t sit on the sidelines.”
The Indiana Republican state committee will be making a similar ballot decision on Tuesday when it votes on a substitute for Gov. Mike Pence after he dropped his re-election bid to become Donald Trump’s running mate.
The leading candidates are Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb and U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks and Todd Rokita. The winner will have to quickly ramp up a campaign against former Democratic Indiana House Speaker John Gregg, who is running a second time after a narrow loss to Pence in 2012.