Bayh Clears Air Early: No Bid for President


For 2004, it's bye-bye, Bayh.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), widely considered a potential contender for the next Democratic presidential nomination, announced Friday he will not run.

Bayh, the father of twin 5-year-old boys, cited family concerns as the principal reason for his decision. "It was entirely personal," he said in an interview. "I thought about all the political factors . . . and concluded . . . there is no one in this country smart enough to tell me what the political landscape is going to look like in 3 1/2 years. The thing I know for certain is my children will only be 5 once."

But he pointedly left open the prospect of a bid down the road. "In a few years, when [the children] are older, the decision might be different."

His announcement was one of the earliest withdrawals in modern presidential campaign history; coming so far from the next election, it amounted to answering a question that few were asking yet. In effect, he took his name out of consideration long before many Americans had ever heard it.

Bayh, 45, said he made the announcement to prevent potential supporters and fund-raisers from feeling misled about his intentions in 2004 when he had already decided not to run for president. He also said he believed he would be more effective at helping forge bipartisan agreements in the Senate if his colleagues did not believe he had "ulterior motives."

Home-state politics also may have encouraged the early declaration. A columnist in the Indianapolis Star recently criticized Bayh's record in Congress, accusing him of presenting himself as a moderate to Indiana constituents while voting as a liberal in Washington to curry favor with Democratic activists for a presidential bid. Closing the door on the presidential race helps Bayh, who faces reelection in 2004, close off that line of attack.

In part because of his political success in a Republican-leaning state, Bayh has been viewed as a rising star among Democrats. The son of former Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) served two terms as Indiana's governor before easily winning his Senate seat in 1998.

He serves as chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. That's the same position both President Clinton and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate, used as a springboard to prominence within the party.

Bayh had begun some early travel to raise his visibility for a potential 2004 race, including one swing through California. But he faced an uncertain course. Support among his natural constituency--centrist activists and donors linked to the leadership council--probably first would go to former Vice President Al Gore, the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee, or Lieberman, who has indicated he probably will seek the party's nod in 2004 if Gore does not.

By sitting out 2004, Bayh could let Gore or Lieberman have their shot without damaging his reputation by running a potentially weak race.

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