If Barack Obama announces Evan Bayh as his running mate this week, it may be because the two are opposites in several respects.
Obama is short on experience in the U.S. Senate and in politics in general.
Bayh is long on political experience, having been in the Senate since 1999. He was a two-term governor of Indiana before that, and was elected secretary of state of Indiana at the age of 30.
Obama delivers speeches with soaring oratory and thrills his listeners, even some of those who disagree with him when they read the speeches later. As a public speaker, Bayh is pretty boring in comparison.
As part of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, with its tendency to see the evil in America instead of in her enemies, Obama is perceived as soft on national defense. Bayh is part of the moderate wing of the party, which desires to restore its strong national defense consensus that dominated the party from World War II until the Vietnam War.
Bayh could also be selected for how he conducts himself publicly, with no scandals attached to his 22 years in public life. He is polite and well-mannered. By church affiliation he is Episcopalian. At another time in history he would have been called a gentleman.
Of the leading contenders for the vice presidency, Bayh might give the Democrats credibility with some evangelical voters.
For a Democrat, he has made some unusual gestures in the direction of being a cultural conservative. He's been an articulate spokesman for fatherhood, even writing a book on the subject. As Indiana's governor from 1989 to 1997, he promoted the fatherhood movement and organized a major conference on the issue at a time when it was gaining steam around the country.
He also didn't serve liquor at the governor's mansion, explaining in an interview that his mother's father suffered financial reverses in farming and wound up drinking too much.
"I've never tried to preach to people or take a holier-than-thou attitude," he said. "I have a beer from time to time. But I've seen from my family what can happen, and it's made me more cautious."
In another move that gained him approval from conservative evangelicals, Bayh reinstated Gideon Bibles in state park inns after an overzealous state official thought the Bible violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
He also patronized conservative Christian political groups as governor, writing to one organization, then called Citizens Concerned for the Constitution, about its work in encouraging Christians to engage in politics: "I share with you a belief in the Almighty. Ultimately it is a service to Him through helping our fellow citizens that motivates many of us to engage in the public activities on which this conference is focused. That is a very appropriate way to view public service because all nations and states are ultimately governed by Him."
On the subject of abortion Bayh has not taken a pro-life position. He has voted in favor of legislation for parental notification for minors who seek an abortion. He also voted in favor of the ban on partial-birth abortions, in contrast to Obama's vote against it. He gets a 50 percent favorable score from the pro-choice organization NARAL, in contrast to his 25 percent favorable rating from the National Right to Life Committee.
Bayh grew up in politics. His father, Birch, was Indiana's speaker of the house, which Evan would visit as a preschooler. His father served three terms in the U.S. Senate, running for the presidency in 1976. Evan's mother, Marvella, died of cancer after writing a testimonial book that spoke of her faith in Christ. Evan ran his father's 1980 Senate campaign, only to see him lose to conservative Republican Dan Quayle. He learned his lessons and realized that his father's big government liberalism was out of date and out of favor with voters.
Politically, he rebuilt his party from near death in Indiana, first winning a race for secretary of state in 1986, then helping the party win four consecutive races for governor. He won two of them, then his hand-picked lieutenant governor, Frank O'Bannon, won two more. He captured his own senate seat after the two terms as governor.
Other Democrats who served under him went on to win their own races, including Gov. O'Bannon and Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, who won two terms after 32 years of Republican mayors. Bayh did all of that in a state that has not gone for a Democratic presidential nominee since the Lyndon Johnson landslide of 1964.
As governor, Bayh was the opposite of the current Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican who never seems to shy away from controversial issues. Bayh took a stab at education reform but never put a definitive stamp on a particular policy or issue. He avoided tax increases, a winning position in a conservative state. If he was zealous about anything, he was zealous about finding the common ground between liberal and conservative ideological perspectives. He also won elections and returned Indiana to a competitive two-party state.
Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg of Vincennes thinks a Bayh vice presidential nomination would help Obama in Indiana. "He'd be the ideal candidate," said Gregg, who likes to call himself a "Bible-quoting, gun-toting Democrat."
"Historically, Bayh is from southern Indiana," Gregg said. "He'll play well in the Midwest and the near South—Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. He is the modern-day Moses for the Indiana Democratic Party."
Notre Dame professor Robert Schmuhl thinks Bayh has the right temperament for the vice presidential assignment.
"He would be a figure who understands how the vice president should campaign and serve," Schmul said. "I don't think he is the kind of person who would try to upstage the presidential candidate."
Russ Pulliam is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star and former editorial page editor for The Indianapolis News. He is also director of the Pulliam Fellowship.
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