Sen. Bayh seeks edge in Democratic field
By MIKE GLOVER, Associated Press Writer
Sat Jul 8, 4:15 AM ET
JOHNSTON, Iowa - In a quiet, methodical style reflecting his Midwestern roots, Sen. Evan Bayh (news, bio, voting record) is laying the foundation for a presidential campaign and prompting some Democrats to talk about a candidate with a realistic shot.
"The chatter that you hear is that he's a good guy and nice and he has that honest, Midwestern feel to him, kind of like Harry Truman," said veteran Democratic strategist Dane Strother. "That's all appealing."
In his fifth trip to Iowa in the last year, the centrist Indiana Democrat opened a three-day swing Thursday with a fundraiser in downtown Des Moines for legislative candidates. He mingled easily with about 50 party activists for more than an hour and made a point of chatting with everyone in the room.
"He's a Midwesterner and that will help him in Iowa," said state Senate Democratic leader Michael Gronstal. "It's up to him to sell himself, and so far he's been fairly impressive."
As he makes his way around the state, which launches the primary process with caucuses, Bayh sets aside ample time for private meetings with top Democrats, introductory sessions in which he often trades stories about campaigning for his father, former Sen. Birch Bayh.
The elder Bayh served from 1963-81 and spent time in Iowa in his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. The son finds that the campaign war stories are an effective way of building ties, particularly with older Democrats who remember his dad.
While New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton looms as the front-runner for 2008, other Democrats are fighting to distinguish themselves from the pack. Bayh has the distinction of having won statewide election five times in one of the most Republican states in the nation, serving as secretary of state, governor and senator.
"I don't think you can get elected five times in a state that hasn't gone Democratic since 1964 without learning how to campaign," said Anita Dunn, a Democratic media consultant who has signed on with Bayh.
Bayh has assembled a solid team of advisers operating under the auspices of his political action committee, the All America PAC. He's tapped a former Democratic National Committee fundraiser, a onetime pollster for Howard Dean's presidential campaign and a chief of staff to the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan.
Dunn was a top adviser to former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley during his 2000 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Bayh has $9.8 million in his campaign account, according to March filings. His All America PAC had $967,453 cash on hand.
Bayh, 50, casts himself as a centrist who can win over independents and moderate Republicans, and his political resume is his base appeal.
"I have a proven track record of doing something this president said he would do and never did, and that's being more of a uniter than a divider, reaching out to independents, reasonable Republicans as well as all of our Democrats," Bayh said.
There's plenty of competition for the backing of moderate Democrats. Bayh is seeking to separate himself from rivals like former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner by focusing on his national security resume, which includes membership on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees.
"One thing we need to do is prove to this country that we can be tough and smart," said Bayh. "We need to take Karl Rove and this administration on this issue. We know they are going to attack us on this."
"Warner does have a paucity of foreign policy experience," said Democratic consultant Steve Murphy, who said the jury is still out on the competition. "We have elected a one-term governor in the recent past. It all depends on Warner's performance in the campaign."
Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls dismissed the notion of a competition.
"If Governor Warner decides to throw his hat in the ring, I don't think he's going to be fighting for a label. He's going to be asking folks to look at his record," said Qualls.
Bayh's close attention to retail politics has earned him high marks as Iowa Democrats head into a competitive election with an open governor's race, toss-up House races and a legislature that's virtually tied. Bayh planned to attend eight events raising money for local candidates.
"He is making inroads here," said former Iowa Democratic Chairman Gordon Fischer. "He is doing what it takes to be successful in the Iowa caucuses, and that is a lot of retail politics."
Tom Courtney, a state senator from Burlington, Iowa, was getting some help from Bayh.
"When I'm around town, I'm starting to hear Bayh's name mentioned," Courtney said. "Democrats are looking for somebody who is new and fresh."
Though Bayh is making an impression in some early states, he remains little known around the country.
"Honestly, there's only one person on anybody's radar screen and that's Senator Clinton," said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who is not working for any candidate. "None of these other folks have begun to register in a meaningful way."
On the Net:
Sen. Evan Bayh: http://bayh.senate.gov/