INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Evan Bayh’s return to Indiana politics looked like it would be a coronation when he announced in July a bid for the Senate seat he gave up in 2011.
Instead, he was trounced by Todd Young, an ex-Marine who represented a southern Indiana district in Congress, delivering Bayh the first defeat of his 30-year political career.
“I’m a competitive person. I like to overcome great challenges,” Young told The Associated Press in an interview. “People stepped up during what could have been an insurmountable situation in the minds of many people.”
Young’s victory keeps the seat held by retiring Sen. Dan Coats in Republican hands. But it also toppled an Indiana political dynasty started when Bayh’s father, Birch Bayh, was first elected to the Legislature in the 1950s and later served as the state’s Senator.
Bayh, 60, banked on his political name and millions of dollars in his campaign bank account to carry him to victory. He was a prized Democratic recruit who was supposed to help the party regain a majority in the U.S. Senate.
But he faced a barrage of withering attack ads from Young and his allies that questioned Bayh’s residency in Indiana, his ethics and lucrative business dealings since leaving the Senate six years ago.
By late October, Bayh’s big early lead in the polls evaporated despite previously enjoying a sky-high approval rating during his two terms as governor and 12 years in the Senate.
Indiana University public affairs professor Paul Helmke said there were a number of factors that led to Bayh’s defeat.
“He’s like the star athlete who comes out of retirement. They’ve got some good moves but show that they are rusty,” said Helmke, a former Republican nominee for Senate who lost to Bayh in 1998.
Bayh last ran for re-election in 2004. Many younger voters don’t know him or about his ties to the state, said Helmke, who added that Young and his allies did a good damaging Bayh through attack ads.
Bayh’s post-Senate work left him open to accusations that he had become Washington insider who left Indiana behind to work for a lobbying firm. He also did himself no favors when, during a television interview in August, he forgot the address of the Indianapolis condo that is listed on his drivers’ license and voter registration as his home.
The AP reported last month that Bayh spent substantial time in 2010, his last year in the Senate, searching for a private sector job, while voting for or seeking changes to legislation that benefited the corporate and financial world. The AP also reported Bayh’s schedule showed he stayed in hotels rather than his condo during rare visits to the state.
For Rose Lenig, an 82-year-old retired teacher from Rolling Prairie in Northern Indiana, Bayh’s absence from the state was reason enough to vote for Young.
“I felt Bayh was here just to get a Senate seat and I think he left Indiana and he shouldn’t be returning,” Lenig said.
Addressing supporters in Indianapolis Tuesday night, Bayh encouraged civility.
“I ask all of you here this evening as we nurse our disappointments, tomorrow reach out to those who perhaps voted in a different direction because they are not are adversaries,” Bayh said. “In spite of what some people may tell you, we have more in common than what divides us.”
Young, 44, is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer, Naval Academy graduate and was an aide to former Sen. Richard Lugar. He received an MBA from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Indiana University. He was an attorney living in Bloomington when he narrowly won a four-way Republican primary and then defeated Democratic Rep. Baron Hill in 2010, riding the Tea Party wave into Congress.
While Young often says he wasn’t raised in a political family, his wife Jenny is a niece of former Republican Vice President Dan Quayle, who rose to prominence by defeating Bayh’s father in Indiana’s 1980 Senate race.
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