News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett Opinion

February 22, 2010

MARK BENNETT: Indiana has had solid representation in the U.S. Senate for many years

TERRE HAUTE — Someday, when Sens. John Mellencamp and Tony Stewart have a couple terms under their belts, Indiana might be held in the same regard in Washington as it is now.

Calm down. Mellencamp has shown zero interest in becoming the Democratic candidate for Evan Bayh’s soon-to-be-vacated U.S. Senate seat. (When asked to respond to grassroots Internet pleas for the politically outspoken Mellencamp to run, his publicist, Bob Merlis, told the Tribune-Star by e-mail Thursday, “We’ve asked, and he has not offered a comment of any kind.”) And the mention of Stewart — the “Rushville Rocket” — is just for fun. No chance.

In reality, though, the Hoosier state may never replicate the status it carries through its U.S. senators.

Consider this: The president of the United States placed one of Indiana’s senators, Bayh, a fellow Democrat, on his short list of vice presidential picks in 2008, settling instead on Joe Biden. The same president, Barack Obama, also considers the other Hoosier senator, Richard Lugar, a Republican, a political mentor.

Lugar, in his sixth term, ranks as the most senior Republican in the Senate. In April 2006, Time magazine named him one of America’s Ten Best Senators. Bayh, who announced Monday that he won’t seek a third term, has won five elections for secretary of state, governor (twice) and U.S. senator (twice) as a Democrat in a heavily Republican state. Lugar and Bayh both buck their party more often than most of their colleagues. Bayh has voted with the Democrats only 71.3 percent of the time, less than anyone else. Only five Republican senators backed the GOP less often than Lugar’s 79-percent record.

In a nutshell, they’re respected and renowned for their independence and, well, popularity. The hard-line conservatives and liberals may see America as either red or blue — for us, or against us — but these two Hoosier senators are about as purple, in political terms, as a Minnesota Vikings helmet.

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