Young’s defeat of former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, who retired from the U.S. Senate in 2010 only to be recruited to run again this year, does not bode well for Democrats’ attempts to regain control of the Senate. The race in Indiana was considered one in a small handful of races that could determine the Senate’s final balance; Democrats need to pick up four or five seats to win back a majority.
The two candidates generally stayed within five points of each other in the polls, although in recent days Young’s lead over Bayh had widened. As of Election Day, TPM's PollTracker Average showed Young leading Bayh 52.2 to 41.6.
Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), who served the state in the U.S. Senate between 1989 and 1999, and took office again in 2011, announced he would be retiring in March of 2015. Bayh entered the race to replace him late, in July of this year. But he brought with him a $10 million war chest, immense name recognition in the state (his father was also a U.S. senator, for 18 years), and giddy speculation among high-profile Democratic senators that he could help turn the Senate blue, an unlikely prospect for any other Indiana Democrat.
But Young, a three-term congressman and former Marine captain, had the help of Donald Trump’s running mate, popular Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), and of Trump himself, who is quite popular in the Hoosier State. In the weeks leading up to election day, the double-digit lead Bayh once held in the race evaporated.
Bayh also had his own issues: After leaving the Senate, complaining of impossible partisan gridlock, he took to pseudo-lobbying work, never registering as a lobbyist in Washington but performing similar work on the side. He also didn’t spend much time in Indiana, allowing Young to paint his Democratic rival as an out-of-touch, out-of-state big government establishment figure to great effect.
It all made for an expensive race: At the end of October, according to an Indy Star report, total spending by party-affiliated and outside groups reached $45.8 million in the state.