MT Senate: Baucus nomination could help Democrats keep seat

John Walsh

The appointment of Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to serve as the next ambassador to China has many observers scratching their heads. But beneath the surface of the peculiar nomination, there may have been political and electoral implications under consideration.

Baucus had already declared that he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2014, creating an opportunity for Republicans to gain a seat in the Senate. In fact, most political prognosticators have favored the GOP to win the open seat, which is a must-win if they expect to take control of the chamber.

But when Baucus resigns from his seat after he’s confirmed to the diplomatic post, Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) will be able to appoint his replacement, but it appears that he won’t appoint a placeholder.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Bullock will appoint Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D-MT), who is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s favored candidate and believed to be Democrats’ best hope to keep the seat. Walsh is likely to face Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT) in the general election.

Nathan Gonzalez of The Rothenberg Political Report noted that motivation “could be an effort by Democrats to give Walsh a leg up in the primary and general elections as a sitting senator, thereby giving him an opportunity to cultivate an independent image and raise his profile.”

This is an example of why people hate Washington politics. It gives the appearance of a backroom deal. It’s also a desperate attempt to manipulate the outlook of the race back in favor of Democrats.

Now, the one problem with that thinking is that appointed senators rarely win re-election, according to Nate Silver. But regardless of whether Walsh wins next November, this will still be an example of how Democrats are trying to manipulate a contentious election in which control of the Senate is up for grabs.

The most recent survey in the race, conducted last month by Public Policy Polling, shows Daines holding a 17-point lead over Walsh (52/35). Political analysts — Charlie CookStu Rothenberg, and Larry Sabato — have given Republicans a slight advantage in the race.

Oh, and by the way, Baucus’ nomination can’t be filibustered. Outside of public pressure on Bullock to do the right thing and appoint a placeholder, nothing is stopping him from trying to game Montana voters.

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