Bayh stops in city to stump with union

Since leaving politics at the end of 2010, Evan Bayh said he has continued to see Indiana’s Right To Work legislation put downward pressure on wages for Hoosier families.

“I think it’s curious that some people think it would be helpful to the middle class if their jobs paid less,” said the former Indiana governor and U.S. Senator during an appearance Friday in Columbus. “I certainly don’t agree.”

The 60-year-old Democratic candidate for U.S. senator is attempting to stage a political comeback, taking on Republican Todd Young to win the Senate seat Dan Coats is vacating by retiring. His campaign included a short address Friday afternoon outside the Carpenters Union Local 1155 building on South Mapleton Street, where about 50 to 60 people gathered.

Aside from a little more gray hair and a few wrinkles, Bayh didn’t look too different from the 31-year-old who first emerged in Hoosiers politics after becoming Indiana Secretary of State in 1986. Three years later, the son of former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh began the first of two terms as governor, and then filled his father’s old shoes with two terms in the Senate.

Although the event was billed as a recognition of successful union negotiations with Dorel Juvenile Group, State Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, described it in his address as a political rally.

With the distribution of campaign buttons, bumper-stickers and the constant endorsements of Bayh and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg, that’s exactly what it looked like.

After arriving at the union Hall, Bayh met privately with International Carpenters Union President Douglas McCarron and several other high-ranking union leaders. The closed-door talk amounted to little more than a general discussion regarding the current political season, Bayh said.

Comments by Bayh, Goodin and national union leaders to union members focused on topics such as saving Social Security, maintaining living wage jobs and affordable college and medical care.

“I’m running for Senate to tackle those challenges,” Bayh said after his address. “But Congressman (Todd) Young thinks his campaign objective is to attack me.”

Young, who is Bayh’s Republican opponent and has represented the state’s 9th District in Congress since 2011, has described Bayh as a shadow lobbyist since he left the Senate and joined a Washington law and lobbying firm, McGuireWoods.

“I’ve never been a lobbyist, and I never will,” Bayh said.

Most anti-Bayh ads focus on his Senate retirement, questioning his ties to Indiana and criticizing his work as a consultant. Bayh says he finds the ads that label him as a Washington insider “interesting.”

“My opponent actually serves in Congress,” Bayh said. “He’s been there more than 800 days over the last six years. So if you think Congress is doing a great job for us, he’s your guy.”

One of Bayh’s chief concerns is that middle class families have challenges that Washington is just not addressing, he said. Instead, he sees nothing but partisan fighting and ideological gridlock on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers “step on your back and divide, divide, divide,” he said to the crowd in Columbus.

Citing his reputation as a moderate who works well with Republicans, Bayh says that’s what he wants to bring back to Washington.

“If we continue down the path we’re on, our state and country won’t be the kind of places we want them to be,” Bayh said.

On the same day Bayh came to Columbus — and about a week after his wife Susan visited the city to speak at the Bartholomew County Democratic Party’s quarterly fundraiser — current governor and GOP vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence was campaigning for Young in Fort Wayne. But Bayh said he doesn’t expect either Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama to come to Indiana on his behalf.

“It already appears the state will favor Mr. Trump and we’re not a battleground state for president,” Bayh said. “They probably have better uses for their time in other places.”

About the race

U.S. Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Democrat Evan Bayh, a former two-term governor and U.S. senator, are competing for the Indiana’s Senate seat being vacated by Republican Dan Coats, who is retiring.

Bayh didn’t enter the race until July 13, two days after Democrat Baron Hill, who had won an uncontested primary, withdrew his candidacy.

The Bayh-Young race is considered close by political experts.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.