Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer will announce he won't seek to replace retiring Sen. Max Baucus next year, several sources confirm to The Hotline, robbing Democrats of a popular candidate and giving Republicans a strong chance to win an open Senate seat.
Schweitzer, whom polls show is the most popular politician in Montana, had been mulling the race since the day Baucus announced he wouldn't run again. National Democrats hyped his chances and insisted he would enter the race, even after Schweitzer took a job as chairman of a Montana mining company earlier this year.
Schweitzer told the Associated Press he would rather stay in Montana than make a six-year commitment to D.C. While considering a bid, Schweitzer made clear his disdain for Washington to every media outlet who would listen.
But Democratic sources said the amount of opposition research on the former governor painted a grim picture. A report in the Great Falls Tribune tomorrow will outline Schweitzer's ties with a dark money organization, which may have been deeper than Schweitzer had let on.
And Montana elected officials won't shed many tears over Schweitzer's decision. He and Baucus have had a strained relationship for years; Schweitzer allowed speculation that he might challenge Baucus in a primary to swirl, though he never truly considered running against the state's senior senator. And though Schweitzer worked closely with Sen. Jon Tester when Tester was in the Montana legislature, Tester felt Schweitzer had a penchant for taking credit for accomplishments that should have been shared. Tester made several eyebrow-raising comments in a Politico report earlier this week highlighting Democrats' complicated feelings about the former governor.
Schweitzer's move was a sudden reversal. He had hired staff for an eventual campaign, and he even filled out papers to formally file for office, according to a source familiar with his plans. He had told both Montana and national Democrats he was fully committed to the race.
GOP Rep. Steve Daines, a freshman, is considering whether to run for the seat, and Republicans are hopeful he'll make the leap. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Thune both contributed to Daines last quarter, and Sen. Rob Portman, the National Republican Senate Committee's chief fundraiser, is hosting an event for Daines later this month.
Democrats will now turn to state Auditor Monica Lindeen, who lost a Congressional bid in 2010; state school Superintendent Denise Juneau; and Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY's List, the high-powered Democratic group.
Without Schweitzer in the race, Daines would be the favorite to pick up a seat for Republicans, who likely will need to win a net of six seats in November 2014 to win control of the upper chamber. Republicans are likely to win Democratic seats in South Dakota and West Virginia, and vulnerable Democratic incumbents in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Alaska will face tough fights to win new terms. Adding Montana to the list of competitive seats only improves the GOP's chances of winning control.