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Bye Bye Bayh

Anybody who says Evan Bayh is retiring because he feared being defeated by ex-Sen. Dan Coats is dead wrong. Bayh was the clear favorite in that match-up, and Coats has been damaged by the lobbying and residency revelations about him over the last couple of weeks.

And that’s why this is such a setback for Democrats. The Crystal Ball has immediately re-categorized this seat from Likely D to Toss Up, pending a clearer picture of the party nominees. 2010 is going to be a Republican year, and despite Obama’s narrow 2008 victory in Indiana, the Hoosier State is still GOP territory overall. At the very least, Democrats will have to spend big bucks to hold the seat, if they can hold it at all. The logical Democratic candidate would probably be an incumbent House member, perhaps Brad Ellsworth (age 51) or Baron Hill (age 56). Hill has already run against Senate appointee Coats in the 1990 special election (following Sen. Dan Quayle’s resignation to become Vice President), and lost to Coats by a respectable 54% to 46%. Since Hill faces yet another tough rematch with former GOP Cong. Mike Sodrel, Hill might be especially tempted to make the run. But this is all speculation.

On the Republican side, the instant frontrunner for the nomination (and maybe the general election) is none other than former Sen. Coats. However, Coats is no longer the inevitable victor after the facts that have surfaced recently. It will be interesting to see if ex-Cong. John Hostettler (R) or a third candidate can make hay out of Coats’ difficulties. If Hoosiers think they are choosing the next senator in the GOP primary, they’re going to be picky—and Coats has given them a lot to pick over in his past.

Overall, Bayh’s announcement is another body blow to Democratic chances of maintaining any substantial margin in the Senate that convenes next January. A couple of more surprises like Bayh’s and we’ll all be talking about the possibility of the Democrats losing the Senate entirely—but we’re not there yet and may never be. The Crystal Ball’s estimate of a 7-seat gain for the GOP is still a reasonable one, but under ideal conditions for the GOP, it could expand to 8.