For a sense on how the national environment is shaping up for Senate Democrats, look no further than the Montana Senate campaign to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Max Baucus (D). CuratedBlock object
-- It's a race featuring a Democratic outsider with a compelling biography against a House Republican. It's taking place in a Republican state -- but one where Democrats have won 19 of the last 23 Senate races. And it's emerging as an early test for how badly Obamacare will hurt Democrats, even those who didn't vote for the law.
-- Republicans landed their top recruit Wednesday in freshman Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT). After failing to get former Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the race, Dems settled on Lt. Gov. John Walsh, who led the state National Guard and boasts outsider credentials, without a voting record to scrutinize. Last month, in the wake of the government shutdown, being a House Republican was a problematic part of a resume. Now, given the president's falling numbers, being a Democrat in a red state could be more problematic.
-- Unlike incumbent senators who voted for the law, Walsh will have the freedom to distance himself from the White House as much as he needs to. But in an unexpected challenge, he's facing some friendly fire from his own party. Schweitzer's 77-year-old Lt. Gov., John Bohlinger, is challenging Walsh in the primary, and the former governor told Hotline that Walsh starts the primary at a disadvantage. There's clearly no love lost between the former governor and Washington Democrats.
It's appropriate that Montana is shaping up as an early bellwether, given that Baucus drew headlines for suggesting -- in April 2013! -- that the health care law's implementation was becoming a train wreck. His successor will be determined by how badly that "train wreck" costs Senate Democrats next November.