Rich James: Northwest Region is Bayh country
Thursday, September 15, 2016 10:40 AM
MERRILLVILLE – While the latest poll shows Democrat Evan Bayh leading Republican Todd Young by four percentage points in the race for the U.S. Senate, the margin likely is much different in Northwest Indiana. For two generations, this corner of the state has been Bayh country.
It began with Birch Bayh, Evan’s father, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962 and reelected twice. Birch Bayh, of course, lost a 1980 bid to become the first Hoosier to be elected to four terms in the Senate, falling victim to the national push in 1980 to throw out the most liberal from the Senate.
Bayh’s loss, of course, had a substantial impact on history, in that he was defeated by Dan Quayle who went on to become vice president. The senior Bayh had a host of backers in Northwest Indiana, particularly then-East Chicago Mayor Robert A. Pastrick, who had a knack for turning out huge Democratic pluralities on Election Day. If Pastrick wanted something out of Washington, Bayh provided it.
In fact, it was Pastrick who was on hand to greet Evan Bayh when he made his first Northwest Indiana appearance after announcing he intended to seek the Senate seat both he and his father formerly held. Besides Pastrick, the senior Bayh was the darling of labor unions who controlled the Region politically until their numbers began to dwindle in the 1980s.
Although he is much less liberal than his father, Evan Bayh, too, has been embraced by Northwest Indiana. Perhaps because of the hefty local plurality he enjoyed during his first run for governor, Evan Bayh named Lake County’s Michael A. Pannos as state Democratic chairman.
Although a good number of Democrats are still upset that Evan Bayh gave up his Senate seat six years ago, they have again embraced him. With the death of Gov. Frank O’Bannon and Bayh’s decision to retire from public life, Indiana was left without a Democratic leader. So Bayh now is being looked on as a savior of sorts.
Democrats know they are better off with Bayh running for the Senate than Baron Hill, who is not as popular and more liberal. Being a conservative Democrat, Bayh fits nicely into Indiana, which is one of the most red states in the country.
Bayh, who had designs on the presidency, was on the short list to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate if she got the nomination in 2008. Bayh will be in Lake County for the annual Democratic rally just prior to the election. His father’s old friends are expected to be there to greet him.
Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana.