Posted: June 13, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

There was a U.S. senator, a Democrat, with a son named Beau. He was at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington on Friday evening for a political fund raiser -- and a pricey one, too, with the top contributors paying $1,000 to attend.

Only he wasn't Joseph R. Biden Jr. He was Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, and he was there to collect some Delaware dollars for his campaign for a second term in 2004.

Biden was there, too, though. He was one of a trio of co-hosts for Bayh. So was Thomas R. Carper, Delaware's other Democratic senator who knew Bayh as a fellow governor before they reconnected in Washington. So was Jack A. Markell, whose inclusion showed that he's not expected to stay state treasurer forever.

Bayh met with about 25 people given invitations to this low-key reception, thanking them with a quip from the late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, who said, "I am touched by your presence but not as much as you've been touched by your presence."

Bayh, 47, is a household name in Indiana, the son of former Sen. Birch Bayh. He also is coming into his own nationally as the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist organization. According to Congressional Quarterly's political handbook, his politics are so moderate that he has been called a "Republicrat."

Bayh was the picture of senatorial courtesy as he mingled, less high-octane than Biden, less intent than Carper. The question is what he was doing in Delaware on a muggy evening that he could have been spending with his family, which includes twin boys born in 1995, one of them named Nicholas and the other named Beau, like one of Joe Biden's sons.

Bayh has $4.7 million in his campaign account. He was elected with 64 percent of the vote in 1998 -- more than Biden ever got -- and the Republican who wants to run against him is a college professor who is a four-time loser for a congressional seat and has $60,000 in the bank.

The official explanation is that Bayh is plugging away because of what happened to his father in 1980, when he lost to Republican Dan Quayle, later the vice president who perhaps is remembered today more for his slipshod spelling than that classic upset.

"Who thought my father would lose to Dan Quayle?" Bayh said. "I learned from that experience never to take it for granted, because you never know."

Then there is the other explanation. Bayh has The Look that fellow politicians recognize, the one that says there is more to come. Bayh made the short list when Al Gore was looking for a running mate in 2000, and he and Biden were cooing over one another as White House material.

"Joe Biden's been a hero of mine. I sleep better at night knowing this man is helping to chart foreign policy," Bayh said. "If this man were elected president of the United States, it would be a significant upgrade."

Biden returned the compliment. "I expect he will be a candidate for president someday, and we couldn't do a whole lot better," he said.

At least the Delawareans didn't have to choose between them. "I hope he will be president someday," state Sen. Patricia M. Blevins, an Elsmere Democrat, said about Bayh. "He's young enough that maybe we can get both."