Washington Monday’s stunning announcement by Sen. Evan Bayh that he’s retiring from a Congress he says he no longer loves makes him the latest to flee Washington as many voters seem furious about the country’s economic malaise and poised to take it out on incumbents.
The decision by the Indiana Democrat, who was in strong position to win a third term in November, gives Republicans a formidable chance to capture the seat in his GOP-leaning state. It also compounds the problems facing Senate Democrats this fall as they cling to their majority in the chamber, where they now hold 59 of the 100 votes.
Bayh, 54, joins a growing roster of recent Democratic retirements that includes Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and Sens. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Yet the congressional casualty list has a decidedly bipartisan flavor, with recent retirement announcements coming from Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and other GOP House members from Michigan, Indiana, Arkansas and Arizona.
“Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you’ve probably had some very nasty town hall meetings lately, and most normal human beings don’t enjoy being yelled at,” said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont-McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “Democrats stand to lose more than Republicans because they’re the in party, but Republicans are catching some of this, too.”
Democrats have a 255-178 edge in the House, with two vacancies from Democratic-held seats. But there are 49 Democrats from districts that Republican presidential candidate John McCain won in 2008, placing them among the most endangered House Democrats.
With the public upset over job losses, spiraling federal deficits and spending, huge bonuses awarded to executives of bailed-out financial institutions, and Washington’s yearlong preoccupation with health care, one need look no further than recent polls to gauge the poisonous political atmosphere facing members of Congress seeking re-election:
• In an Associated Press-GfK poll in mid-January, just 32 percent approved of how Congress was handling its job, including just 4 percent strongly approving, though Democrats got higher marks than Republicans.
• A CBS News/New York Times poll in early February found 81 percent saying it’s time to elect new people to Congress, with just 8 percent saying most members deserve re-election.