The news today is that Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind) has decided not to take on incumbent Senator Evan Bayh this fall. While I'm disappointed in Pence's decision, as I believe his popularity, name recognition, and his ability to communicate would have made him the favorite against a weakened Bayh, I can understand the decision.
To begin with, Pence would have to spend the next 10 months at fundraising lunches and dinners to be able to compete with the warchest that Bayh has amassed. Secondary to that, Pence is in a solidly Republican district, which will allow him to focus his ample leadership capability on holding Democrats accountable over the months leading up to the election. He'll have far more impact as a campaigner for candidates across Indiana and the country, than he would battling Bayh for a seat that would take year's to gain the clout he's already gained in the House.
In his letter to supporters, Pence said, "I am staying for two reasons. First because I have been given the responsibility to shape the Republican comeback as a member of the House Republican Leadership and, second, because I believe Republicans will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010."
Pence isn't alone in the belief that Republican's can win back the House this fall. Rasmussen Report has Republicans leading a generic congressional ballot at 46% to 37%. And while elections aren't run in generic districts and previous years show that even when polls show discontent toward "Washington", voters tend to see their own representatives in a more favorable light, I think the lesson of the past few months is that while all politics is local, voters are responding to national issues.
On top of all those reasons, Pence would've had no easy road to the Republican nomination.
While light on name ID, State Senator Marlin Stutzman has a credible candidacy, as well has former Congressman John Hostettler, who's anti-Washington rhetoric, national experience, and rampant conservatism play right into the wave of support that just elected Scott Brown in Massachusetts.
On Stutzman, Hot Air's Ed Morrisey said that while he is polling double digits behind Bayh and never won a statewide race, "still, former state Senators seem to be in vogue at the moment." Adam Brickley at race42008.com likes that Stutzman is an unknown quantity. "Hosttetler may be the better known candidate nationally, but he also has a lot of baggage. Conversely, Stutzman has no name recognition but looks to be building a competent campaign that can compete. At first glance, I think he could be marketable and I like his offbeat advertising. With an infusion of NRSC cash and the right strategy, he could be very viable – and he’s certainly the sort of fresh face that you need to run a giant-killing campaign"
Hostettler does have some "baggage", but little more than anyone who has a 12 year voting record and that much time in the public spotlight. Digging deeper into the supposed baggage, his personal support of the 2nd Amendment is not a liability in Indiana, like it might be in other areas of the country. And, the fact he was not in lockstep with a Republican Congress that outspent any in history until the current Democratic Congress, will probably play well, too. Quinn Hillyer at the American Spectator said on him, "I like John Hostettler, who already is announced and who is trailing Evan Bayh by just three points in a recent poll -- but Hostettler has an antipathy to raising money and insists on running campaigns that aren't exactly professional by modern standards."
Hillyer continued, "Nevertheless, I think Indianans and national officials should try to recruit somebody like former U.S. Rep. David McIntosh, who has run statewide in Indiana before, or even bring Dan Quayle back to Indiana. The race is winnable, but it needs somebody in it who isn't just a good man, but a superb campaigner." Looking past his use of the term "Indianans", which shows Hillyer's never been to the Hoosier State, I think this analysis overlooks the case of Scott Brown. Part of the attraction was that he was a relative newcomer to the Massachusetts political scene compared to Coakley. On top of running against healthcare, and criminalizing terrorism, he ran against the machine politics in his state. It's not to say that incumbents or big names won't win anywhere, especially since the districts are gerrymandered to prevent that. But, putting a decade's old name back into the race is no way to capitalize on an energized base that has seething frustration for Washington.
Which leads to the final point that "The Hill" focused on from Pence's announcement at the Heritage Foundation today, that he is a credible outsider candidate for the GOP Presidential nomination in 2012. Recent history suggests that Republican's tend to settle on the best guy from the last primary, which would make Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee poised to lead the field, but the recent Democratic overreach and subsequent backlash is not something I see changing over the next two years. And although James Garfield is the only President ever to have gone directly from the House of Representatives to the White House, if a freshman Senator can get elected on platitudes, anything can happen for Pence in the next two years.