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Thursday, March 4, 2021

After the Super Bowl, get ready for the political Super Bowl – Coats vs. Bayh

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In 1998, then Indiana Senator Dan Coats dropped out from running for re-election, citing the constant fundraising senators had to do.

His decision opened a clear path for then former Governor Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrats’ shining star, to recapture the seat once held by his father, Birch.

Now, 12 years later, after spending eight years as a high-priced, powerful Washington lobbyist and four years as United States Ambassador to Germany, Dan Coats is back to challenge the man he dodged.

Two weeks ago, a Rasmussen poll suggested that Senator Evan Bayh was extremely vulnerable, not just against a couple of the somewhat unknown Republicans running against him, but Bayh was running even with major GOP figures Congressman Mike Pence, Governor Mitch Daniels and former Congressman John Hostettler.

Pence thought about it and decided against running against Bayh.

Dan Coats seemingly didn’t after supposedly being approached by powerful forces in the Washington Republican hierarchy.

After rumors blazed through political Web sites and blogs of national political writers, Coats issued a vague statement last week saying, “I have authorized my supporters to begin gathering signatures as I test the waters for a potential challenge to Evan Bayh in 2010. Over the next few weeks, I will be talking to Hoosiers from all walks of life, and I will make a formal announcement regarding my intentions in the near future.”

The Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, after ignoring Bayh’s announced opponents, launched salvoes of e-mail attacks against Coats, calling him a carpetbagger and a Washington insider in bed with Bank of America (one those hated Big Banks) and Citgo (owned by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez).

Since leaving the Indiana Senate seat, Coats has been a resident of Virginia, voting there since 1999, including 2008 and 2009. Though he’s visited Indiana many times in the past 12 years, Coats has been virtually silent on the issues affecting Hoosiers.

But, if Coats gets into the race, it potentially gives Bayh the strongest Republican opponent since he faced John Mutz in 1988 for governor.

Coats’ statement was somewhat disingenuous. He says he’s authorized people to get the signatures of 500 registered voters in each of Indiana’s nine Congressional districts to get his name on the ballot. But that must be done by next Friday, Feb. 19. It’s doable, but tough.

Meanwhile, Bayh apparently has had trouble getting his signatures, especially here in Marion County, and especially among African Americans. I’ve talked with numerous Black party insiders who’ve told of troubles getting Blacks to sign Bayh’s petitions.

While Bayh may be popular among Hoosier independents and some Hoosier conservatives, Bayh’s support among key segments of the Democratic Party’s base -liberals – and Blacks is a mile wide and an inch deep.

And Bayh’s invisibility in the state’s largest Black community doesn’t help.

Regarding Coats, I’ve not met with him since he left the Senate. But I remember two visits he and members of his family made to Indiana Black Expo in the early 1990s. On one visit the senator and I were disagreeing on some issue that today I can’t remember. What struck me, though, was Coats’ willingness to dialogue with those with whom he disagreed.

I admired that quality in the conservative Republican then. But in today’s hyper-polarized political environment, I wonder whether Coats’ collegiality will prevail among his own party, especially one populated by the rabid, radical Tea Party crowd.

If Dan Coats gets on the ballot and if he survives the Republican primary, a Dan Coats/Evan Bayh race will be Bayh’s toughest test ever. And if Bayh can’t generate enthusiasm and excitement among the Democratic base, liberals and African-Americans, Dan Coats could do to Bayh what Coats’ mentor Dan Quayle did to Bayh’s father 30 years ago.

What I’m Hearing

in the Streets

Kent Smith’s sudden resignation from the Indianapolis City-County Council leaves Marion County Republicans in a precarious position. Smith was local Republicans’ African-American poster person. In the 2007 election, Smith was their preferred at-large Council candidate. They paired him with then candidate Greg Ballard in the few ads the party aired in the election.

Smith was made vice-president of the council and given a key committee chair. But in recent months, it seems the party turned on Kent Smith. Council Republicans stripped him of the largely ceremonial vice-president’s position. When he followed in the tradition of independence that Black City-County Council Republicans have followed since the start of Uni-Gov, Smith was dogged out by his Council colleagues and the Mayor’s Office.

Smith resigned for family reasons. There’s nothing wrong in putting his family’s interest first. But his party let him down and our community should remember how Republicans maltreated one of their rising stars.

Now, we watch to see which African-American Republican committeepersons will pick to replace Smith. And yes, an African American must replace him. If not, in this critical election year, where no African-American is expected on the GOP’s countywide ticket, how the local Republican Party handles the Smith vacancy will determine whether the party will get any traction among African Americans as the decade continues.

Democratic state representatives from Marion County will do themselves harm if they don’t support changes to move the start of the school year closer to Labor Day. This is a change the community wants.

With ISTEP moved from fall to spring, there is no logical reason to start school in mid-August anymore. But besides supporting starting school either after Labor Day or in late August, I’m even more in favor of a uniform start date for all public schools.

Uniform school starts make it easier, for example, for media, especially Black media, to create coherent campaigns to encourage education at the start of the school year. It could even bring back the Back-to-School parade tradition of the early 1980s.

Uniform school starts also make it easier to enforce truancy laws and school zone speeding laws.

Our Black community supports the return to the “traditional” after Labor Day school start. The State Senate passed such legislation. The Indiana House, led by our African-American representatives, should OK the measure too.

See ‘ya next week!

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