Sen. Max Baucus has about as much at stake--both professionally and personally-- in the 2012 Senatorial elections as Sen. Jon Tester, the guy actually running.
With the balance of the Senate possibly to be decided in Montana, Baucus's status as the chairman of the ultra-important Finance Committee remains in limbo. So it should come as no surprise that Baucus is putting as much effort into fellow Democrat Tester's reelection campaign as any other contest that wasn't his own.
"Max has a long history of supporting the Montana Democratic Party through the ups and downs, and this year he's putting an unprecedented level of support behind Jon Tester," said John Lewis, who has worked for Baucus for 11 years and currently serves as his state director.
According to his office, Baucus has raised more than $1.5 million this cycle in support of Tester and other Montana Democrats. But the help doesn't end there. Dozens of Baucus staffers have volunteered their vacation time to help the campaign, and Baucus has spent time knocking on doors, making phone calls, and attending events on the junior Senator's behalf. Just this week Baucus spoke at a rally in Bozeman, and is spending part of this week canvassing in Billings. In what will certainly be one of the closest, if not the closest, Senate races in the country, Baucus's help could be the tipping point.
For the most part, Tester has been shying away from having surrogates on the campaign trail. With Montana a red state on the presidential map, it has been in Tester's best interest to come across as an independent-minded lawmaker, instead of just another Democrat. That's why you won't see President Barack Obama, or other high profile Democrats stump for him (Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia is an exception).
But Baucus is different. Baucus has a special role in Montana politics, and it's not just because he's a fundraising juggernaut in a state that ranks in the bottom 10 states for personal income per capita.
"Whether you like him or you don't, you can't argue that when there's an important deal, healthcare trade, or taxes, Max Baucus is in the room," said Matt McKenna, who worked for Tester and is now a spokesman for Bill Clinton. "Any time there's a late night press conference when they come out of the room, Max Baucus is always there. That is incredibly important to Montanans."
Of course there's more to just maintaining the Senate majority at stake for Baucus, for there's no doubt that he believes Tester is the best man for the job. Baucus aides like to say that the two Senators are like brothers, with a bond as strong as any colleagues in the upper chamber. They hold weekly constituent meetings together, and consider one another strong advocates for their state.
"I saw Jon's tremendous commitment to Montana back in 2006, and over the last six years, I have seen him bring that same commitment to work every single day in the Senate," Baucus said in a statement to the Alley. "Jon's record of delivering real results for Montana speaks louder than any campaign ad out there."
There's also a personal element to Baucus's involvement. For the most part Baucus has been able to win reelection with relative ease since coming to the Senate in 1978. One exception, however, was 1996.
It was an election that felt a lot like the one we are seeing in the Big Sky State today. It was a two years after a GOP wave election, it was a presidential election year, and the guy running to defeat the vulnerable Democratic Senator from Montana was none other than Denny Rehberg.
Baucus was able to pull away at the end despite a bombardment of attacks from Rehberg and the National Republican Senatorial Committee hitting him for being a liberal and for voting for tax increases. During that election someone also leaked court documents relating to Baucus's divorce and issues with alimony.
"The 1996 race was a tough one," a Democratic lobbyist from Montana told the Alley. "There's still a little bit of bad blood from it. When you run against someone and it becomes personal you never really forget that."