U.S. Rep. Steve Daines announced Wednesday that he will run for Senate in 2014, giving Montana Republicans a candidate they believe has a strong chance at winning the state's first race for an open Senate seat in decades.
The race may help determine which party controls the Senate, with Republicans needing to pick up six seats to recapture the majority.
Daines' campaign released a video announcing his candidacy shortly before he was to make a formal announcement before supporters in Bozeman.
Many in the GOP had been pushing Daines, 51, to run for the seat being vacated by Democrat Max Baucus, even though Daines won his first election just a year ago. Other Republicans cleared out of the Senate race to make way for Daines, who already has raised more than $1 million to begin the campaign.
Democrats have recruited Lt. Gov. John Walsh to run on their side. The former Montana National Guard commander also has been in office for less than a year.
The Walsh campaign welcomed Daines to the race with criticism over his votes with the House GOP to shut down the federal government in an effort to oppose the health care law.
"Instead of taking responsibility for his reckless decisions as a Washington politician, he is asking for a job promotion," Walsh campaign manager Michelle Mayorga said.
Daines initially supported the effort by House Republicans to reject any increase in the nation's debt limit. But he later voted to end the shutdown based on reaction from Montana constituents, a move that drew disappointment from some conservatives.
Former Republican Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, 77, also announced his intention to run for Senate as a Democrat.
"I don't need a new job. But I feel as though I am the person to beat Daines," Bohlinger said Wednesday.
Daines, a businessman prior to last year's election win, worked overseas for the consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble before returning to his hometown of Bozeman to work in the family construction business, and then at a local technology company.
In 2008 he unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor on Roy Brown's ticket.
Montana is one of the largely rural states being targeted by the GOP where President Barack Obama lost in 2012. Democrats point out that despite Obama's poor showing in Montana in 2012, they won a tightly contested U.S. Senate race and the governor's office that year.
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