OK, so whose job was it to check that Evan Bayh’s voter registration was clean and ready to go?
Apparently it was CNN’s job and not that of the former governor and senator or presumably anyone on the team that vetted his surprise, last-second jump into the U.S. Senate race against Republican Todd Young, nudging aside the precarious, walk-along candidacy of Democrat Baron Hill.
Doubts continued to grow recently about just how Hoosier Bayh really is after leaving the Senate in 2011 and sticking around Washington, D.C., for lobbying work, when CNN reported that Bayh’s voter registration was moved to “inactive” status.
That’s not a huge deal for most Hoosiers. County clerks send routine notices to make sure records are straight and that registered voters actually live where county records say they do. The returned mail helps counties figure out who is set to be purged from the voter database, whether because of death or relocation.
Here’s the thing: Those postcards are not forwarded to other, secondary addresses. In Bayh’s case, that means that twice since leaving office — including the latest incident this past week — he been sent to the inactive rolls when postcards didn’t follow him from the condo he maintains in Indianapolis to one of his preferred residences in Washington, D.C.
It’s not as if Bayh will be blocked from voting — or that he has voted illegally in Indiana elections since 2011. He just needs to check in with his county clerk and clear things up.
But for a guy who had to know residency would be a big deal — Bayh actually felt compelled to show reporters his Indiana driver’s license and sing the refrains of “Indiana, Our Indiana” when he joined the race in July — shouldn’t someone have been assigned to get the mail?
Or maybe, just maybe, shouldn’t Bayh be driving stakes into an Indiana property at some point?
Bayh’s field staff pooh-poohed the implication that he was anything but a bona fide Hoosier.
But it was CNN, again, earlier in the week that broke news that Bayh had listed his two homes in the Washington, D.C., area — each worth millions — as his main residence when he applied for a fishing license, made donations to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and signed a deed for another home in Florida. CNN even reported that Bayh opted for a hotel instead of his $53,000 condo in Indianapolis when he came to town in the summer for a Democratic Party function.
Consider this tidbit from reporter Manu Raju’s report at CNN: “A source with Indianapolis Power and Light said Bayh’s monthly electric bills averaged less than $20 per month since 2012, suggesting little — if any — uses at his Indiana condo.”
Aside from the obvious question — at today’s prices, what kind of condo can you get in Indianapolis for $53,000? — Bayh is left to answer: Are you really still from around here?
Some of our senators’ affinity for far-off locales, rather than the banks of the Wabash, is legendary by now. Dan Coats had to fight off challenges when he re-established his Hoosier address when opportunity knocked in 2010, in the form of Bayh ditching a sure-bet re-election bid that year. And longtime Sen. Dick Lugar was busted right in the heart of his 2012 primary race when it was revealed that while he owned farmland, he had no place to lay his head that he could call home in Indiana after decades spent in Congress.
For Lugar, the thin claim to a home in Indiana wasn’t the only reason he lost to then state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in the 2012 primary. There were a lot of moving parts in that race: his age, his longevity, criticism from his tea party opponent over his penchant for working across party aisles. But where he called home was the final nail.
It’s hard to believe that residency questions will take down Bayh the same way. He’s in this race because he’s a familiar name, a known quantity and, frankly, the Democrats’ only chance to win that race. Coats, after all, was able to make the case that he could return without voters getting too out of whack.
Then again, it’s hard to believe we have a Senate candidate, no matter how well known, who feels he has to pull a driver’s license out of his wallet to prove he’s really an Indiana resident.
Dave Bangert is a writer for the (Lafayette) Journal and Courier. Send firstname.lastname@example.org