POLITICS

Evan Bayh Defends Clinton's Iran Talk, Says McCain Beats Bush On Environment

Sen. Evan Bayh, Hillary Clinton's chief surrogate in the state of Indiana, defended a pledge made by the New York Democrat to "obliterate" Iran should the country launch a nuclear attack the state of Israel. Though he acknowledged, without provocation, that Clinton's remarks illustrated the dangers of responding to hypothetical questions.

"Now the hypothetical, and maybe this is a good reason why it is best not to respond to hypothetical. If the hypothetical is the nation of Iran wiping out Israel in a nuclear attack, I would hope our president would have a vigorous response to that and not sit idly by and watch millions of people be killed," said Bayh, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "In fact, taking a strong stance beforehand probably minimizes a chance of that thing happening. If you give the Iranians any reason to believe there wouldn't be a vigorous response, well, you don't want that to happen."

Bayh offered a similar defense for Clinton's pledge -- made in the recent Democratic debate -- to build an "umbrella of deterrence" for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. "If the Iranians try to get a stranglehold on the world's petroleum supplies, through naked aggression, I would hope our country would have a vigorous response to that," he offered.

But the Indiana Democrat did veer slightly from the Clinton talking points path when asked about the other recent campaign flare-up: whether or not it was legitimate for Senator Barack Obama to describe John McCain as an improvement over President Bush. In the days leading up to the Pennsylvania primary, Clinton criticized Obama for favorably comparing the GOP nominee to the president. On Tuesday, however, Bayh acknowledged that, at least on the issue of global warming, McCain would be better than Bush.

"I think that John deserves credit for stepping up on [global warming]," said the Indiana Democrat. "[Comparing him to Bush] is setting the bar pretty low... John is a good person whose service to this country I personally admire."

From there, however, Bayh quickly cast McCain as an extension of the Bush administration.

"What I think [Clinton] was saying was that he apparently has embraced the economic policies of George Bush and the Iraq policies of Dick Cheney and is not really the John McCain of 2000, the iconoclastic outsider and the reformer, some of those vestiges have seemingly dropped away and I think that is unfortunate."

With the Indiana primary approaching in a matter of weeks, Bayh is poised to be a major asset for Clinton in the state. Already an active advocate, the senator had just conducted two television interviews and was on his way to participate in a Clinton campaign conference call when he made time to talk with The Huffington Post. He downplayed the acrimony of the Democratic primary and urged for a resolution of the situations in Florida and Michigan (whose votes weren't officially sanctioned by the DNC) before deciding on a nominee. Overall, he pledged, the party, at least in Indiana, would benefit not suffer from the lengthy process.

"In the long run, this will be good for the party," he said. "Here is the dilemma we face. The Republicans almost always carry Indiana for president but the Democrat almost never tries. And if you don't try, of course you aren't going to win. And so the net result of this primary process, as long as it doesn't become bitterly divisive, is that we have tens of thousands of more volunteers, thousands of new contributors, hundreds of thousands of new voter registrants. And all of that will help with gubernatorial race, congressional races, and in the fall make it more competitive for whoever our nominee is."