Contributions to Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., over the past two months from top Senate Republicans suggest that the party may be trying to nudge the freshman congressman into next year's race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, a prime opportunity for the GOP in their quest to retake control of the Senate in 2015.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's leadership PAC gave $10,000 to Daines in May, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., handed over $2,500 in June, Bloomberg News reported this week. Next week, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a vice chairman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, will attend a Washington fundraiser for Daines.
But it's not necessarily the dollar amounts that matter here -- it's the public support for Daines coming from key Senate Republicans.
McConnell doesn't do anything he thinks won't improve Republican chances of taking control of the Senate, and he is not a frequent contributor to House members and candidates outside of his native Kentucky. The Montana seat -- as one of the seven Democratic-held seats that voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama last year -- is a key part of the path to the majority. Back in May, McConnell also gave to Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who is considering running in another one of those Dem-held red states in 2014.
Most observers didn't think Daines was seriously considering a Senate campaign, but freshman members of Congress sometimes reconsider, and, as an at-large member, Daines has just won a statewide election. Last cycle, then-at-large-Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., was viewed as a top recruit when he declared his Senate candidacy fewer than five months into his House tenure, though he ultimately fell short in the general election.