Democratic Frontrunner to Fill Baucus Senate Seat

Image: Democratic Frontrunner to Fill Baucus Senate Seat John Walsh

Monday, 23 Dec 2013 07:50 AM

By John Gizzi

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Following the appointment of Democratic Sen. Max Baucus to be U.S. ambassador to China, sources told Newsmax that likely Democratic Senate nominee John Walsh would be appointed to fill his seat, changing the dynamics of the race for Baucus' Montana Senate seat.

Democratic Gov. Steve "Bullock will appoint Walsh when Max Baucus resigns," the source, who requested anonymity, said. "That deal has been cut."

When Baucus, 72, announced his retirement after six terms last summer, all signs pointed to an easy retention of his seat in 2014 by Democrats with the likely candidacy of former two-term Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Asked how Democrats would respond if Schweitzer decided not to run, one Big Sky Mountain wag replied: "They'll jump off that bridge when they come to it!"

But the unpredictable Schweitzer did indeed choose not to run. Last week, he appeared in national political columns following a visit to Iowa, resulting in speculation that the former Montana governor would seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.

So, minus Schweitzer, Walsh became the Democrats' best hope of keeping Baucus' seat. As the state's lieutenant governor, a career military office and adjutant general of the state's National Guard, Walsh has the advantage of not being in any office in which he had to take positions on controversial issues.

But this has not helped the front-running Democratic nominee and probable appointed senator. A just-completed Public Policy Polling survey showed that, among likely voters statewide, certain Republican nominee Rep. Steve Daines leads Walsh by a handsome margin of 52 percent to 35 percent. The same survey showed that among likely Democratic voters, Walsh leads former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger by 39 percent to 31 percent. Bohlinger, 78, was Schweitzer's lieutenant governor while a registered Republican and formally switched his registration to Democrat to make the Senate race.

The 51-year-old Daines is a former top executive with the RightNow Technologies software company, which is now Bozeman's largest employer. A solid conservative — he most recently voted against the compromise budget package — and past Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, Daines was state chairman of Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.

"And Mike just sent us a $1,000 personal check and said he would do anything to help Steve win the Senate race," a Daines spokesman told Newsmax last week.

Will an appointed "Sen. Walsh" be stronger candidate against Daines? That's hard to say. Republicans Roger Wicker (Miss.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Democrats Michael Bennet (Col.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), for example, all initially came to their Senate seats through appointment and all went on to win in the next election.

But the political graveyards are full of appointed senators who were subsequently defeated in bids to win full terms of their own.

Where New York’s Gillibrand was appointed and then elected, the previous two appointed senators from the Empire State — Republicans Charles Goodell in 1968 and John Foster Dulles in 1951 — were both defeated for full terms in their respective trips to the polls in 1970 and 1952.

The last time there was a Senate vacancy from Montana was in January 1978, when then-Democratic Sen. Lee Metcalf died.

Democratic Gov. Tom Judge then appointed state Chief Justice Paul Hatfield to the Senate. But Hatfield cast a highly unpopular vote to relinquish the Panama Canal and went on to lose the Democratic primary to none other than Max Baucus, who denounced his opponent as "Panama Paul" for his vote.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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