In a huge blow to Democratic hopes for the midterm elections, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh says that he will not seek re-election this November.
That unexpected decision hands Republicans an opportunity for a pick-up in a year when Democrats are already defending several open Senate seats.
Bayh said at a news conference in Indianapolis on Monday that he believed he would have been re-elected despite "the current challenging environment" in Congress.
He attributed his decision to the bitter partisan divides that have dominated Congress in recent years, though he praised his colleagues as hard workers devoted to public service.
Bayh says it is time for him to "contribute to society in another way," either by creating jobs with a business, leading a college or university, or running a charity.
His decision leaves Democrats at risk of losing the Senate seat in the November election after Bayh had raised $13 million for his campaign.
The two-term senator is known as a moderate Democrat. But Former GOP Sen. Dan Coats had been planning to challenge Bayh in November in what many expected to be a tight race.
A senior Democratic source told Fox News that recent polling showed Bayh way ahead of Coats, and that the retirement must have been a personal decision. Bayh's staff said the latest polling showed Bayh ahead of Coats by 20 points, Fox News reported.
The decision comes after Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., both announced their retirements in January. Democrats are trying to defend open seats in Delaware and Illinois as well.
Republican incumbents are abandoning seats in Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio. More Senate Democratic incumbents are considered vulnerable, however.
Bayh's name was among a handful of well-known Democrats prominently mentioned as possible vice presidential candidates in both Sen. John Kerry's 2004 run for the presidency and President Barack Obama's campaign last year. He was believed to have been on Obama's final list. Obama settled on then-Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware.
Bayh is serving his second six-year term in the Senate, and is a centrist Democrat from a Republican-leaning state.
Bayh served two terms as Indiana's governor before winning the first of his two Senate terms in 1998. He had until recent weeks been regarded as a near certainty for re-election, having raised nearly $13 million for his campaign and facing little-known Republican opposition until national Republicans recruited Coats to enter the race.
Bayh's name was already well known when he first ran for political office in 1986, winning the race for Indiana secretary of state that year. His father, Birch, won the first of three terms in the U.S. Senate in 1962 and was an unabashed Great Society liberal.
The younger Bayh ran for governor in 1988 on a platform of fiscal responsibility, reducing what he considered to be a bloated government bureacracy and opposing tax increases.
Bayh served two terms as Indiana's governor before winning the first of his two Senate terms in 1998.
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