Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I learned that there is, indeed, a Senate seat up for election in Indiana.
Months have passed since any awake citizen could have been confused about the elections for President or Indiana Governor. Signs, stickers, and buttons have been everywhere, candidate news has been on the front pages and top stories lists of every news outlet, and there have been several debates each for both offices. I remember seeing “My Man Mitch” (Daniels, the Republican candidate for Governor) signs long before I saw my first Bush sign, to say nothing of Kerry signs. So, I assumed that, given the visibility of these campaigns, we must be in a lull year for the Senate, where neither candidate is up for election.
Not so! Senator Evan Bayh’s seat is in play this year, at least in theory, and there are candidates opposing him: Republican Marvin Scott (link not working for me as of this writing) and Libertarian Al Barger. Barger’s invisibility is understandable, but Scott’s? Certainly the Republicans, with such a slim Senate majority, would be sure to contest every race vigorously. Or, at least, so I thought.
I first heard of Scott through a single radio ad he played, criticizing Bayh for not being as supportive of the President as he could have been. I’ve heard Bayh’s response far more than I heard the original ad. Bayh was allowed to kill the only debate, which would have been a major opportunity for Scott to raise his poor visibility. I have yet to see a Scott sticker, poster, or sign; while Bayh paraphernalia have also been scarce, his Senate seat has given him ample free publicity over the years.
You can see the IndyStar.com questionnaire here, while more rigorous analysis can be found at OnTheIssues.org for Bayh and Scott. Based solely on these reports, I would tend to favor Scott over Bayh. Yet the reports are very simplistic, and in some cases overly so (see, for example, how OnTheIssues.org links personal retirement accounts, a “pro-senior” position, and privatizing Social Security here). To what extent should such surveys be trusted?
Ultimately, my vote in this election is decided by several issues:
- Visibility. Who is Marvin Scott? So far, I only have two surveys and a single radio ad to tell me. His Web site is down. There have been no debates. He spoke at the Republican convention, but no copies of his speech seem to be available, even at the official Republican Convention site. Even the press has noticed his inaccesibility. If he cannot recognize his disadvantages in this election and work against them, why should I believe he will not show similar ineptitude when doing the work of a Senator?
- Balancing effects. Right now, Senator Bayh is a highly respected centrist Democrat. We need more, not fewer, centrist Democrats in political office. When I have heard of Democrats supporting the President’s overall vision in foreign policy, Bayh’s name has often been prominent. This is behavior that, in my opinion, needs to be encouraged and rewarded.
- Support for minority Republicans. Rightly or not, the Republicans have been painted as “the racist party” for a while now. Candidates like Scott (who is black) are a welcome counter to that presumption.
- The judiciary. This is Bayh’s main negative. His votes on judicial nominees, most notably cloture votes, have been (as far as I can tell) party-line votes. Whatever his beliefs on the candidates, he is participating (however mildly) in the continued suppression of votes on candidates solely based on his party’s recognition that they would lose such votes. That’s not how the democratic process is supposed to work; you may not like the choices the people have made in the legislature, but that doesn’t give you the right to subvert those choices.
On balance, Bayh seems to take the trophy, despite his judiciary votes. I simply cannot get past Scott’s inability to get his message out; I want to hear his message directly from him or his campaign. Even the Libertarian candidate has him beat on that score.
Perhaps Bayh was destined to win anyway. There is something to the idea that wasting resources on “sure thing” elections is a poor strategy. But Scott’s poor showing will not just be the result of Republican resource allocation, but of Scott’s own poor decisions which hamper his ability to communicate with voters.