WASHINGTON — Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana announced on Monday that he would not seek re-election, sending a wave of distress over his fellow Democrats and focusing new attention on the view that unyielding partisanship had left Congress all but paralyzed.
Bayh, a centrist and the son of a former senator, used the announcement that he would not seek a third term to lambaste a Senate that he described as frozen by partisan politics and incapable of passing even basic legislation.
“For some time, I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should,” Bayh said. “There is too much partisanship and not enough progress — too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even at a time of enormous challenge, the people’s business is not being done.”
Bayh’s decision staggered Democrats: it was the latest in a series of setbacks.
Bayh was among the most prominent of moderate Democrats in Congress, but has been increasingly isolated over the past year as he has warned Democratic congressional leaders that the push for big-ticket and expensive legislation was scaring off independent voters.
Although Indiana is considered a Republican-leaning state, Obama won it in 2008, and Bayh, 54, who served two terms as governor and won election to the Senate with more than 60 percent of the vote in each of his races, appeared to be in a good position to win a third term.
What was most striking about Bayh’s announcement was the deep disillusionment he expressed with his place of employment, a feeling reflected in recent polls. In a New York Times/CBS News poll last week, 75 percent of respondents said they disapproved of the job Congress was doing; just 8 percent said members of Congress deserved re-election.
In an interview, Bayh said he was startled at how much the Senate had changed since he arrived in 1998, and even more since his father, Birch Bayh, served in the Senate, from 1963 to 1981.
“This is colored by having observed the Senate in my father’s day,” Bayh said. “It wasn’t perfect, they had politics back then too. But there was much more friendship across the aisles, and there was a greater willingness to put politics aside for the welfare of the country. I just don’t see that now.”
“In my father’s day, you legislated for four years and campaigned for two; now it’s full time. The politics never stops,” he said. “My bottom line is that there are a lot of really good people trapped in a dysfunctional system desperately in need of reform.”