From NBC's Domenico Montanaro and Mark Murray
Sen. Evan Bayh's exit gives Republicans a prime pick-up opportunity. Former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats (R) is running for the seat. Bayh was leading Coats by 20 points (55% to 35%) in a recent Research 2000/DailyKos poll.
Republicans now have Senate pick-up opportunities in at least eight states -- Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and North Dakota. (Connecticut is now a longer shot.)
To take back control of the Senate, Republicans will need to gain a net of 10 seats.
Democrats have pick-up opportunities in at least three states -- New Hampshire, Ohio, and Missouri.
Democrats have been hammering Coats for his residence, his lobbying and more. And a Democratic official says Bayh was ahead.
"They polled last week and were way ahead of Coats," the official said, adding that petitions were due tomorrow and the Bayh campaign's "were all done."
The decision "must have been a last minute, personal decision."
As for who could run to replace Bayh, look to Reps. Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill. Democrats are working to convince either -- both of whom represent swing districts in the Southern part of the state. Ellsworth, the former Vanderburgh County sherriff, is seen by some observers as, potentially, the strongest Democratic candidate. Hill is a former Indiana high school basketball star.
Also, look to see if Rep. Mike Pence on the Republican side reverses course and decides to jump into the race now.
"Since petitions due tomorrow, there will be a vacancy and because of that there's a way for the party to name the candidate afterwards," the Democratic official said, adding, "And don't forget how weak the Republican field is right now. Coats now damaged goods, and there's no Mitch Daniels running."
Bayh, 54, grew up mostly in Washington, D.C., and is the son of former Sen. Birch Bayh. He was first elected in 1998.
Bayh will announce his retirement today at 2:00 pm ET at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, or IUPUI, in Indianapolis, Ind.
Here are excerpts of what he will say:
I was raised in a family that believes public service is the highest calling in the church, that what matters is not what you take from life, but what you give back. I believe that still.
After all these years, my passion for service to my fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so by serving in Congress has waned. For some time, I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should. There is too much partisanship and not enough progress -- too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even at a time of enormous challenge, the peoples' business is not being done.
Two weeks ago, the Senate voted down a bipartisan commission to deal with one of the greatest threats facing our nation: our exploding deficits and debt. The measure would have passed, but seven members who had endorsed the idea instead voted "no" for short-term political reasons.
Just last week, a major piece of legislation to create jobs -- the public's top priority -- fell apart amid complaints from both the left and right.
All of this and much more has led me to believe that there are better ways to serve my fellow citizens, my beloved state, and our nation than continued service in Congress.
My decision was not motivated by political concern. Even in the current challenging environment, I am confident in my prospects for re-election. Five times over the last 24 years, I have been honored by the people of Indiana with electoral success. But running for the sake of winning an election, just to remain in public office, is not good enough. And it has never been what motivates me.
At this time, I simply believe I can best contribute to society in another way: creating jobs by helping grow a business, helping guide an institution of higher learning, or helping run a worthy charitable endeavor.
In closing, let me say this: Words cannot convey nor can I adequately express my gratitude to the great people of Indiana. I am constantly reminded that if Washington, D.C., could be more like Indiana, Washington would be a better place.