In Indiana's Senate Race, Political Royalty Tries To Put On A Fresh Face Former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh's double-digit lead in a Senate race has shrunk after weathering criticism for making a home in Washington, D.C., instead of Indiana during his years after the Senate.
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In Indiana's Senate Race, Political Royalty Tries To Put On A Fresh Face

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In Indiana's Senate Race, Political Royalty Tries To Put On A Fresh Face

In Indiana's Senate Race, Political Royalty Tries To Put On A Fresh Face

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A proud son of the Midwest faces questions about whether he really is. Democrat Evan Bayh is running for Senate in Indiana. Years ago, he was a popular governor and senator. And when he decided to run this year, it transformed the race. Democrats were suddenly far ahead in an election that could change control of the Senate. Three months later, he has only a narrow lead against Republican Congressman Todd Young.

NPR's Ailsa Chang reports that Bayh is taking heat for making a home in Washington, D.C., after leaving the Senate.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: When the main political attack against you is that you left Indiana for Washington, there are certain mistakes you don't want to make - like getting your Indiana home address wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Bayh says he never left Indiana and tried to show the proof.

EVAN BAYH: 1142 C, Canterbury Court, Indianapolis, Ind. It's on my driver's license.

CHANG: It's actually Canterbury square, not court. And I talked to almost a dozen residents there, including some who live right across the street from Bayh. Almost all of them say they've never seen him around, like Peggy Kantor. She lives around the corner from his unit.

PEGGY KANTOR: I have heard that he lives in this area. In fact, I went to one of the condo association meetings. And they did mention that, yes, he does have a unit in here.

CHANG: But you've never seen him?

KANTOR: I have never seen him, no.

CHANG: Many say that's because Bayh has lived a world away from Indiana. After leaving the Senate in 2011, he joined an international law and lobbying firm in Washington - and a private equity firm and multiple corporate boards. He has a home worth two-and-a-half million dollars in DC. It's just the kind of profile that gets many Indiana voters riled up. Fall Fest in Evansville is something Melvin Meyer has always wanted to attend.

Melvin, this was on your bucket list?

MELVIN MEYER: Yes. Talked about it for 20 years, coming down. And it never worked out.

CHANG: Because, Meyer says, he's just been too busy. He is still working at 79. Meyer runs a family woodworking business. And he's a Republican who used to really like Bayh until the last five years.

MEYER: I think he made a lot of money. I think he went there just to make money.

CHANG: What's wrong with making money?

MEYER: I don't. I didn't make any money (laughter). He's just not one of us, I don't think. I think he lost touch with the people of Indiana.

CHANG: So now, Bayh is doing an awkward dance. He's running in an election year where the appearance of authenticity is paramount. And he's getting hammered as a Washington insider. But Bayh, the two-term senator and two-term governor is now saying he's actually the outsider. He must do this because Bayh's path to victory requires winning over Trump supporters.

BAYH: If you agree with some of the Trump supporters, we need a change. Well, then that's what I want to do, bring a better kind of leadership to Washington.

CHANG: Calling himself the fresh face is a strange move for Bayh because his family has been political royalty in Indiana for more than a half-century.

This is Bayh Road?

BETH MONROE: Yes.

CHANG: This is the road named after the Bayh family?

MONROE: Yeah, it is.

CHANG: Bayh Road slices through vast acres of corn and soybean fields. It's in Terre Haute, where Bayh grew up and where his father, Birch Bayh, is a near-mythic figure. Birch spent three terms in the Senate, only to see his eldest son follow in his footsteps.

MONROE: Birch Bayh and Evan Bayh were homegrown names.

CHANG: Beth Monroe was sitting on her porch on Bayh Road.

MONROE: I mean, that was discussed around the dinner table in these farming communities. And they never seemed untouchable or inaccessible.

CHANG: To Monroe, Evan Bayh doesn't represent change. And that's fine, she's not a Trump supporter. Her affection for Bayh is rooted in the past. She's proud of his bipartisanship and his educational policies, especially a popular college scholarship program he started as governor.

MONROE: It's the Bayh legacy. And the best predictor of future behavior is always past behavior. And the legacy of the Bayh administrations, both of them, has been pro-people, pro-Indiana, very positive.

CHANG: And this is the conundrum for Bayh. He can't lose the nostalgic voters like Monroe, but he also has to make the case to voters who want something completely new.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Welcome to Cone Palace. How may I help you?

CHANG: The Cone Palace is the social hub of Kokomo on Sundays.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Can I have a medium pumpkin ice cream on a cone?

CHANG: And at the Cone Palace, I found that particular kind of ice cream swirl of a voter who could find a way to support Trump and Bayh at the same time. Meet Kevin Davis.

KEVIN DAVIS: You know, I think that you reconcile it by not connecting, you know, and just thinking independently about each candidate.

CHANG: Davis has been a staunch Trump supporter. Though when I spoke to him, he said his confidence in Trump has been shaken by the video. But he's always been settled on Bayh.

DAVIS: Bayh does a great job of making people think he's a Republican. (Laughter) And I don't know if that's intentional or not. I'd bet you would have a lot of confusion if you ask what party he belonged to.

CHANG: Is he Republican or Democrat, an outsider or an insider? Is he old or new? Take your pick, Indiana. Ailsa Chang, NPR News.

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