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Q&A: Evan Bayh Q&A: Evan Bayh

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Q&A: Evan Bayh

The Indiana Democrat On Campaigning With Obama

Tammy Haddad spoke with Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., for the July 18 edition of "National Journal On Air." This is a transcript of their conversation.

Q: Sen. Evan Bayh -- this week for the first time he campaigned in Indiana with Sen. Barack Obama.


Bayh: Well, I've seen Barack since then in the Senate, but that is the first time we've been together in Indiana, and Tammy, we're just delighted. It's not often a presidential candidate comes to Indiana in the fall campaign. We've been mostly ignored, so Hoosiers are delighted that Barack Obama is not taking us for granted.

Q: And how much time do you think he'll be spending there?

Bayh: Well, that of course is up to him, but this state is very competitive. He has opened a dozen field offices, has dozens of field staff on the ground, and I believe will come back and campaign aggressively. And his opponent does not even have a single employee in this state. So Senator Obama is making a real commitment to Indiana, and we're grateful for that.


Q: And he's also made a commitment to going on this European trip next week. Now, you were with him in Iraq back in 2006; can you tell us a little bit about that trip?

Bayh: Yes, we had a full two days in Iraq. We met with our top generals, diplomats, ordinary soldiers from Indiana and Illinois, top Iraqi officials. We were in Baghdad, Fallujah, and Kirkuk, and he was very sensitive, very engaged.

Again, this was before he was running for president, so for those people who are out there saying, "Oh this is just a photo-op," and that kind of thing -- I was with him long before any of this ever came up. And he was engaged; he wants to find a pragmatic way to extricate ourselves from Iraq so that we can deal with the gathering threats in Afghanistan, Iran, and other places.

Q: Well, on the nuclear weapons front, you have been involved with Senator [Richard] Lugar, who Senator Obama has been spending time with, too, right?


Bayh: Yes, they've worked very closely together to try and combat what is probably the greatest national security threat that we face, and that is the possible spread of nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorist organizations or to rogue nations. And here is an example where Barack is anticipating a problem, and he's working, you know, a Democrat working with a Republican to try and solve it. Lord knows we need more of that kind of bipartisan cooperation in the national interest in Washington.

Q: Many of the pundits today said it's such a dangerous, dangerous idea for Senator Obama to go on this trip. Do you agree?

Bayh: No, I think it shows confidence that he can step into the role as commander in chief on the world stage, and I think the American people will like what they see. He's smart, he's detail-oriented, he's practical, he'll be strong. And look, any endeavor involves some amount of risk, but I think he'll do well, and I think the people will come away with this with an even renewed sense of comfort about his ability to be a strong, effective commander in chief and to meet the national security threats that we face.

And once again, he's not just taking a Democrat, Jack Reed, with him on the trip. He's taking a Republican, Chuck Hagel. Barack wants to restore the tradition in our country that unfortunately has frayed over the last eight years -- of bipartisan cooperation to protect the national security interests.

Q: There's been quite a bit of coverage about whether or not he'll be at the Brandenburg Gate, and it appears that he will not be there. Do you think that that's a significant point? Did he need to be there?

Bayh: Well, it would have been nice. You know, there have been a history of American leaders speaking at that site, but it's not essential. I mean, what he needs to show and I'm confident that he will show, is his depth of knowledge, his security in terms of performing in the role of commander in chief, his grasp of the issues -- basically the gravitas needed to represent us well in the world stage.

And that's one important thing too, Tammy. Our national interest has been harmed these last eight years because our reputation abroad has been damaged. Now, this is not a popularity contest -- that's not important -- but it does strengthen our country when other nations and other peoples admire us and want to help us. And Barack Obama wants to restore America's standing in the world, and this trip will be a first step, an important step in that direction.

Q: I have to ask you for a response to Reverend Jesse Jackson's comments about Senator Obama -- that he was talking down to blacks in terms of fatherhood. Now you and Senator Obama have worked on legislation on those issues for years; were you disappointed in his comments?

Bayh: Well, yes, I was, and I think Reverend Jackson himself has expressed regret and disappointment in his comments, and I think Barack Obama was very gracious to accept his apology. Look, this is an issue that has come naturally to me as the father of young children. I worked on it many years ago when I was governor and now in the Senate. Barack and I have been working on this for four years together.

You know, Barack came from a family where he was raised by his mother. His mother obviously did a wonderful job -- I mean, look at his great success -- but he never knew his father, and obviously that leaves a hole in your heart when that happens. And so we need to reach out and encourage more of our men to take responsibility for their actions when they bring children into the world, regardless of their relationship with the mother. They need to do right by those kids, to give the kids the best chance possible of doing well in life. And so this is something Barack has believed in sincerely for a long time, and he's right.

Q: Well, you first met Senator Obama when he was running for Senate, right?

Bayh: Yes, that's right. I had dinner with Barack and Michelle in Chicago with a mutual friend and was highly impressed by them both. I can't honestly say I anticipated what's happened in the years since, but I thought that they were both just incredibly smart, nice, articulate people, and they've proven that to be the case ever since.

Q: There have been reports today that Senator Obama's spending a lot of time on the basketball courts, and reporters -- being reporters -- think that maybe when the schedule says he is on the basketball court, he's actually secretly meeting with vice presidential potential candidates. Have you met with him on a basketball court somewhere?

Bayh: No, I have not, but I am working on my free throws and my three-point shot.


Q: I was going to say, because you're an athlete too, right?

Bayh: Well, in Indiana we don't have an official state religion, but if we did it would be basketball. So we admire him for his strength as a potential commander in chief, and he's displayed some pretty good defensive skills on the basketball court, too.

Q: And what's your best defensive skill?

Bayh: Staying out of the way. They call me in when we have to give a foul.


Q: Well, I have to tell you, Senator Bayh, that shot of you guys together this week in Indiana put a lot of TV producers -- I can vouch for them -- they were all thinking, "Hmm, this is a pretty attractive ticket." If Joyce Brothers were here right now she would say, "Isn't it interesting, their body language, they actually appeared really comfortable together." Now can you give us more indication of why you two look so comfortable together? I mean, you obviously know each other, you told us that you've known each other a while. Anything else about your relationship that you appear to already have something warm established there?

Bayh: Well, first of all, it's kind of you to say those things, Tammy. I appreciate it, but look, I wouldn't read too much into that. We know each other, we're friends, we're about the same age, we both have young kids, we both like sports, we made that trip to Iraq. You know, you get to know somebody when you're traveling in the belly of a C-130 or lifting off in a Blackhawk for somewhere like Fallujah or Kirkuk.

Like I said, we're the same generation, so we have a comfort level, but I don't want to overstate any of that. I like him, I hope he likes me, and after that dinner I could tell one thing. My wife is a talented person in her own right, and I could tell with Michelle that Barack and I -- one other thing that we have in common is we both married up.


Q: Did you see the "Access Hollywood" interview, when it was Senator Obama and his wife and their two kids, which I thought was so incredibly adorable, and he later said maybe it was a little bit too much? Did you see any of that, and what is your reaction?

Bayh: Well I saw the coverage of it; I did not see the original interview itself. But you know, I've got young kids, and you know these things -- people want to know about you and your family. That's natural, because that can tell you about somebody. And you know the girls were adorable. At the same time, children don't make the decision to get involved in politics, with all the great things and the occasional not-so-great things that involves, including a lot of intrusive scrutiny.

And so, you know, I think that they wisely -- after that great interview, wonderful spontaneous interview on one of the girls' birthdays -- they decided, you know, well, maybe we ought to let the girls have a zone of privacy. And that's one of those things -- trying to be a parent but also a public figure. It's a tough balance to strike, and you kind of just do it as you go along. And I think they've struck that right balance.

Q: So I can't call "Access Hollywood" right now and tell them that if you get picked that you're in with the kids?

Bayh: My kids?


Q: Yes.

Bayh: I'm sure they would love it, but I think that they've got their own lives, and like I said, you know, when you're children you don't volunteer for this kind of thing. So if they wanted to, I guess I'd consider it, but I would counsel them to just stick to their studies and their basketball and to just enjoy their childhood.

Q: What position do you play?

Bayh: Well, it depends who the other people on the team are. When I was younger I played center or forward, but there are guys who are taller than I am now, so occasionally I'll play shooting guard, that kind of thing.

Q: Very nice. Thank you, Senator Bayh.

Bayh: Thank you, Tammy.

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