How Much Does Bayh Matter?

Not only did Evan Bayh rob Democrats of a sure election bet for Indiana, but he did it in such a way they'll have a hard time recovering: The senator announced his resignation days away from a deadline to qualify for the primary ballot and without informing senior Democratic leadership. Nate Silver points out how important Bayh was for Democrats, and, therefore, how bad his loss is for the party.

But the panic over this announcement also shows just how shaky a foundation the idea of a Democratic party unity was. Democrats depend on this guy, someone willing to leave in a heartbeat because being a legislator is hard? And Bayh was pretty centrist, Matt Yglesias points out, with a record similar to that of his Republican co-senator, Dick Lugar. How different will a centrist Republican -- if that's who takes Bayh's place -- be?

These points might be especially important to keep in mind as Democrats get further away from the illusion of a supermajority that can get things done. As my esteemed boss, Mark Schmitt, wrote last month, after the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, 60 might have been the worst number for the Democrats to work with since it hardened the opposition. With more than 40 senators, Republicans might face more pressure to do some real work.

Having 41 votes makes nonparticipation just a little less credible. If the perceived lesson of Massachusetts, together with the practical reality of a Senate that no longer has a 60-vote majority, is that we need more bipartisanship, for which party does that create a greater obligation to change? The majority that has spent the entire year in what some thought was a futile quest to build bridges? Or the one that walked away?

Of course, the kind of legislation passed in a newly bipartisan Senate might look different the smaller the Democratic majority gets or if, worse yet, it loses the majority altogether. But we're not getting much progressive legislation relying on the likes of Bayh, either.

-- Monica Potts

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