National spotlight set to fall on a different breed of Democrat Indiana's Governor Bayh took cues from his father's loss of U.S. Senate seat

Democratic Convention

Campaign 1996

August 27, 1996|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- Evan Bayh is not his father's kind of Democrat.

He takes the podium today to deliver the keynote address of the Democratic National Convention, where the Indiana governor will be offered as the incarnation of the nation's political center.

President Clinton is gambling that Bayh's fresh face and impressive fiscal record will help to remake the party's image among skeptics who think it is the captive of left-leaning interest groups.

Bayh's father, former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, was a son of the New Deal and a steward of the Great Society. But in 1980 voters denied him a fourth term in favor of a little-known congressman named Dan Quayle. The father's loss foreshadowed the demise of the liberal activist wing of the Democratic Party, and the son took his cues.

Clinton chose the younger Bayh because the governor's record powerfully underscores that this also is no longer his father's Democratic Party.

"People say your approach is different, and I said, well, we've got 9-month-old boys now," Evan Bayh said. "Could I possibly in this speech say, 'Sons, I am going to tell you tonight what is going to be right in 30 years,' put it in an envelope and say here it is? Life doesn't work that way."

He has served eight years without raising taxes, winning by stunning margins in a Republican-dominated state. Indiana has a $1.8 billion budget surplus. He has reduced the welfare caseload in his state more than even Wisconsin or Michigan, which have cut theirs deeply. And this year, he signed off on a record tax cut.

Bayh's strength is not simply in his performance, but in the whole package he presents. His youth, his wife, Susan, and the birth of their twins help to give him approval ratings for which the president could only wish.

"He's the future of the Democratic Party," said Frank Greer, a Democratic consultant who has advised both Bayh and Clinton. "People in Indiana feel about him and his family the way people in the early 1960s did about John Kennedy. I know that sounds overblown, but it's true."

Republicans in the state have become not-so-grudging admirers.

"As a politician, I don't think there are many better," said Mark Lubbers, who managed the GOP presidential campaign of Indiana's Sen. Richard G. Lugar. "The discipline it has taken, and the political acumen to be a Republican governor elected as a Democrat is a substantial accomplishment."

Bayh stunned the Republican establishment in 1988 when he was elected governor at 32.

With that victory came the title of the nation's youngest governor, and the man who relinquished it was Bill Clinton of Arkansas. The two met at a National Governor's Association conference and steadily have grown closer.

The keynote speech will represent a national coming-out party for Bayh, who has consciously not tried to achieve the profile of other ambitious governors. He is known where it matters -- among prominent Democrat fund-raisers and among the political elite.

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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