Darkhorse liberal Democratic Candidate Tamyra D'Ippolito

Democratic Senator Evan Bayh’s shocking retirement announcement has unleashed some frantic maneuvering in both DC and Indiana, as tomorrow’s noon deadline looms for any candidates wishing to compete in the Democratic Senatorial primary race. As of Bayh’s withdrawal announcement today, there are no candidates qualified for the primary race. It appears at this hour that the establishment Democrats, such as Indiana Dem. Reps. Baron Hill and Brad Ellsworth, are not attempting to meet tomorrow’s deadline for the primary. Instead, Indiana Democrats hope to appoint a Senate nominee in a caucus process, bypassing primary voting by the people of Indiana. However, those well laid Democratic plans may be disrupted by a darkhorse candidate, liberal Democrat Tamyra D’Ippolito, a local restaurant owner. Politico’s Jonathan Martin explains the facts on the ground as of this afternoon:

A Bloomington, Ind., restaurant owner who had been running an obscure and uphill challenge against Sen. Evan Bayh for the Democratic nomination claimed Monday that she’s just 1,000 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot.

In an interview with POLITICO, Tamyra D’Ippolito said that after news broke Monday morning that Bayh was retiring, her campaign contacted Democratic officials in Indiana to request they help her get the needed signatures by noon Tuesday — when they must be verified by the state’s 92 country registrars.

It would be something close to a nightmare scenario for Democrats: were D’Ippolito to qualify for the ballot, she would be the likely nominee and the party would be left to face the GOP with a political neophyte who said she is running in part to take on a party establishment she said practices “sexism with a big S.”

It’s precisely what Bayh had hoped to avoid. By disclosing his retirement one day before the filing deadline, the idea was that no Democrat would qualify for the primary ballot and the party’s state central committee could tap their favored candidate.

It was not possible to verify D’Ippolito’s claim about how many signatures she’s collected. To qualify for the statewide ballot in Indiana, candidates need 500 verified voter signatures from each of the state’s nine congressional districts.

But in the mad scramble following Bayh’s surprise decision, worried Democrats in Washington and Indianapolis were taking the prospect seriously.

“This would be a complete and unmitigated disaster,” said a leading Democrat in the state. “We’d be up shit’s creek.”

Should the longshot candidacy of Tamyra D’Ippolito gain entry into the Democratic Senatorial primary, set for May 4, 2010, Indiana Democrats will have two choices: they can attempt to somehow disqualify Ms. D’Ippolito, perhaps attacking the validity of her possible 4500 signatures, or they can get behind the strongly liberal D’Ippolito for the general election. As noted by Martin above, D’Ippolito’s campaign claims it is only 1000 signatures away from the 4500 required and that they have requested assistance from the Indiana Democratic Party – no word yet on whether such assistance is forthcoming.

Indeed, should D’Ippolito submit 4500 signatures by noon tomorrow, it may be that the Democrats will be stuck with D’Ippolito whether attempts are made to invalidate some signatures or not. If D’Ippolito can compile the required 4500 signatures, and they are “verified by the state’s 92 country registrars,” the race for the Indiana Senate seat will become a strong lean Republican for November 2010 as Indiana remains a conservative state that is unlikely to elect a strong liberal like D’Ippolito, who’s candidacy had previously been animated by opposition to Bayh’s attempts to moderate the Democratic health care reform bill. Looking at Rasmussen’s last Indiana poll, which had Bayh leading former GOP House Rep. Hostettler by 3 points, the Democratic health care reform bill is extraordinarily unpopular in Indiana, disapproved by a 23 point margin:

As in many other states, there is a strong correlation between support for the congressional health care plan and voting behavior. Just 37% of Indiana voters favor the plan, while 60% oppose it. Those figures are similar to the national average and include 16% who Strongly Favor the plan and 48% who are Strongly Opposed.

Those who Strongly Favor the plan overwhelmingly prefer Bayh. Among those who are Strongly Opposed, 80% say they’d vote for Pence, 70% for Hostettler and 56% for Stutzman. In Stutzman’s case, 17% of those who Strongly Oppose the plan would vote for Bayh, and 26% are either not sure or would prefer a third option.

In 2008, Barack Obama narrowly carried Indiana with 50% of the vote. However, just 43% of Hoosier voters currently approve of the way Obama is performing his role as president. That decline is consistent with the national trend as measured in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll. Fifty-six percent (56%) of Indiana voters now disapprove of the president’s performance. The current figures include 16% who Strongly Approve and 48% who Strongly Disapprove.

In the face of such extraordinary opposition to the Democratic health care reform bills in Indiana, it appears highly unlikely that a Democratic candidate like D’Ippolito, who is in favor of more far-reaching, government-centric reform than is presently on the table in Washington, will have any chance of winning the Indiana Senate seat in November 2010. Accordingly, the next 19 hours could determine who controls the United States Senate in the 112th Congress after the 2010 Election. Larry Sabato, an esteemed non-partisan political analyst, predicts now that GOP wins in 7 or perhaps 8 seats. Should Indiana move to a easy pickup for the GOP in the coming months, as it will if D’Ippolito gets on the ballot, the chances of a 9 seat pickup for the GOP improves substantially. As the split is presently 59/41, a 9 seat pickup would create a 50/50 split, making Joe Lieberman the potential kingmaker in the 112th Congress Senate chamber, while also putting a premium and likely more national money on longshot GOP bids in Maryland, Wisconsin, New York and Washington.

For now, Martin reports that D’Ippolito is trying to capture the insurgent, outsider energy by attacking the “stonewalling” by the Indiana Democratic Party regarding her signature efforts while activists from the left and right are pushing her candidacy strongly:

D’Ippolito said she was working diligently to get the needed signatures but was still lagging, especially in the 8th District which is in the southwest corner of the state.

She said she wasn’t certain she’d qualify because, as she put it, Bayh-backing Democratic officials “have been stonewalling us for four months.”

A DSCC official conceded that after the Bayh shocker they were still trying to determine who exactly D’Ippolito was and whether she could qualify.

“I’m told it’s unlikely she gets this done,” said the official, more hopeful than confident.

Conservative and liberal activists, with varying motives, also began to rally around D’Ippolito Monday.

The liberal blog Firedoglake offered a friendly write-up and a link to her petitions.

And conservatives saw it as an opportunity to wreak havoc among their foes.

“This could be fun,” wrote RedState blogger Erick Erickson. “Those of you in Indiana should go out of your way to help Tamyra get the signatures he needs by tomorrow at noon.”

For any readers interested in signing potential Democratic Senatorial candidate D’Ippolito’s petition to gain access to the primary, your best bet is to stop by her restaurant tonight, according to her Facebook page:

People are welcome to come in and sign tonight at Ragazzi’s. I have plenty of petitions. Just call me first because I am in and out. 323-9005. Have customers at 6:30 pm but not sure they will make it today in with the snow.

UPDATE: As pointed out by Ace (thanks for the link), any Indiana resident who wants to support Ms. D’Ippolito’s quest to qualify for placement on the May 2010 Democratic Senate primary ballot, please see this link, which will take you to a form which you can fill out and drop off at your local registrar’s by the noon deadline tomorrow.

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