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.”

MT Senate: Democratic candidate compares Republicans to the Taliban

John Bohlinger

Former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger (D-MT) certainly made some headlines last week when he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Montana. But he did it in a very pathetic, divisive way.

During his announcement, Bohlinger disgustingly compared Tea Party Republicans to the Taliban, religious extremists that once ran the Afghanistan government, and blamed them for the last month’s government shutdown.

“We need to challenge the Tea Party representatives who like the Taliban shut our country down,” Bohlinger said on Wednesday, according to the Billings Gazette, which covered the announcement. The paper also noted that the Montana Democrat also compared the shutdown to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Bohlinger served as Lt. Governor of Montana from 2005 to 2013, serving as a Republican on a joint ticket with Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-MT). He backed Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in his re-election bid last year. He left the Republican Party earlier this year.

“In the ’70s and ’80s, the Republican Party was fiscally responsible. They had a social conscience. It’s a different party today,” Bohlinger said in July, according to the Independent Record. “I have a hard time identifying with the hard right. The Republican Party left me in the ’90s.”

Obamacare author hints at delaying individual mandate

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the author of Obamacare who famously called the administration’s implementation efforts a “train wreck,” told a Montana-based radio station on Friday that he’s open to delaying enforcement of the individual mandate if problems with the federal exchange website aren’t resolved.

“I think it makes better sense to see how much of this can be put together, how much Humpty Dumpty can be fixed in the next month, and if it looks like Humpty Dumpty is not getting put back better together, then maybe we should start thinking about delaying the penalties,” Baucus told Scott Fredricks of NewsTalk 730.

Nate Silver: GOP could take control of the Senate in 2014

With former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-MT) deciding to pass on the open seat in Montana, the odds of a Republican takeover have increased, according to Nate Silver, a political analyst with an uncanny ability to predict elections.

Republicans already had a fair chance to take control of the Senate before Schweitzer’s surprising announcement this past weekend. But with six seats currently held by Democrats in traditionally red states, three of which will be open seats, the odds are beginning to look favorable for Republicans.

“The G.O.P.’s task will not be easy: the party holds 46 seats in the Senate, and the number will very probably be cut to 45 after a special election in New Jersey later this year,” wrote Silver at FiveThirtyEight. “That means that they would need to win a net of six contests from Democrats in order to control 51 seats and overcome Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s tiebreaking vote.”

“A race-by-race analysis of the Senate, in fact, suggests that Republicans might now be close to even-money to win control of the chamber after next year’s elections,” adds Silver. “Our best guess, after assigning probabilities of the likelihood of a G.O.P. pickup in each state, is that Republicans will end up with somewhere between 50 and 51 Senate seats after 2014, putting them right on the threshold of a majority.”

Bad news for Dems: Ex-Montana Governor passes on Senate race

Brian Schweitzer

Already facing a tough fight in next year’s mid-term election, Senate Democrats received some very bad news this morning. The Associated Press is reporting that former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-MT), will not run for the seat left open by the retirement of Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT).

Given his popularity in the traditionally red-leaning Montana — where he served for two terms and left office with a 56% approval rating — Schweitzer was considered to be Democrats’ best hope of keeping the seat in their hands. However, Schweitzer told the Associated Press that while he considered the race at the urging of fellow Democrats, he didn’t want to leave Montana for Washington, DC.

Schweitzer faired well in hypothetical pairings with potential Republicans challengers, according to a February survey from Public Policy Polling. Schweitzer led Attorney General Tim Fox (49/43), State Rep. Champ Edmunds (52/37), and former State Sen. Corey Stapleton (49/39). However, Schweitzer trailed former Gov. Marc Racicot (46/45) and led U.S. Rep. Steve Daines (48/45), both within the margin of error.

The National Senatorial Campaign Committee (NRSC) had undertaken an extensive research campaign against Schweitzer and said that he would have had a tough time running from his party’s agenda.

“Just two days ago, Senate Democrats were quoted promising Brian Schweitzer tremendous resources to get in the race,” NRSC Communications Director Brad Dayspring said in a statement. “We did our homework and there was a lot of rust under Schweitzer’s hood – a LOT of rust.”

Senate Democrat Who Called ObamaCare a “Train Wreck” Won’t Seek Another Term

Max Baucus

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who has served in the upper chamber since 1978, announced yesterday that he won’t seek a seventh term in office in the 2014 mid-term election:

Longtime Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, will not seek re-election next year, he said in a statement Tuesday.

“After much consideration and many conversations with my wife Mel and our family, I have decided not to seek reelection in 2014. I will serve out my term, and then it will be time to go home to Montana,” he said.

During the remainder of term, Baucus pledged to fight the nation’s fiscal issues and work for highway and farm bill that will support jobs in his state.

The announcement comes a week after Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee,  told DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the administration’s implementation of ObamaCare, a law he helped write and usher through the Senate, could become a “train wreck.” Republicans have seized on the comments and used them to further criticize the controversial, unpopular law.

Baucus was considered vulnerable in 2014. According to a survey released in February by Public Policy Polling, Baucus could have faced a tough race against a strong Republican candidate. His approval rating with Montana voters was also underwater, at 45/48. An approval rating below 50% is generally considered a red flag for an incumbent.

Predictions for tonight’s Senate races

United States Capitol

Last week, we went over the Senate races that are being watched around the country, noting that it was increasingly unlikely that Republicans would take back that chamber this year. As explained, Republicans thought they had the numbers — and they did, at least on paper. However, the campaigns in states ripe for a takeover haven’t gone that well. Perhaps the best examples of this are, as noted before, Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, both of which came under fire about controversial comments on abortion in the circumstance of rape.

So with that, here are my predictions for the 15 races that have been so hotly contested this year, including any that are expected change hands. The color of the state is the current party in control of the seat (obviously, red is for the GOP and blue is for Democrats) and the predicted winner is on the right with the color of the text being the party in control of the seat after the election.

MT Senate: Rehberg, Tester both lead in final polls

Jon Tester and Denny Rehberg

This race was one Republicans were counting on to take back the Senate this year. Things haven’t really worked out as planned in other races, but Rep. Denny Rehberg could knock off Sen. Jon Tester in what is going to be a very close election. According to the latest poll in the race from Mason-Dixon, Rehberg holds a 4-point lead over Tester, though inside the margin of error:

The poll showed 49 percent for Rehberg, who is Montana’s U.S. House representative, and 45 percent for Tester, the first-term incumbent. Only 1 percent said they’re voting for Libertarian Dan Cox and just 5 percent were undecided.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C., conducted the poll early last week for Lee Newspapers, interviewing 625 registered Montana voters who said they are likely to vote in Tuesday’s election.

The poll has an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Rehberg’s lead is only a single percentage point different than what he had six weeks ago in a Lee Newspapers poll, which showed him with a 48-45 advantage over Tester.

“Rehberg’s just kind of kept that little lead on Tester,” said Brad Coker, managing director for Mason-Dixon. “The general rule is it’s harder for an incumbent to make up ground with undecided voters. Here, you have two incumbents.”

Republican hopes to take back the Senate are bleak

United States Capitol

This was supposed to be the year for Republicans to take back the Senate. There were plenty of vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this year and an anti-incumbent feeling in the air.

But the races for the Senate haven’t shaped up so well for Republicans. While they only need a net-gain of four seats to take control, they’ve found themselves trying to hold on to what were thought of as “safe seats” thanks to strong Democratic candidates and gaffes by GOP nominees.

As it stands right now, Democrats hold 53 seats in the Senate, including two Independents who caucus with them. Republicans have 47 seats. The list of competitive seats below shows that Democrats will cancel out likely Republicans gains in Nebraska and North Dakota with gains of their own in Maine (Angus King, an Independent, will caucus with Democrats) and Massachusetts. There are still five seats on the board as where polls are too close to give an idea of a which party will win.

Here’s a look at the Senate seats up for grabs (current party in control of a seat is colored, incumbents are in italics):

Republicans set to maintain status quo in Congress

United States Capitol

It’s generally thought that Republicans will not take the Senate this year, despite going up against many vulnerable and unpopular Democrats. The reasons are a mix of gaffe prone candidates and having to run against incumbent Democrats in swing states where President Barack Obama’s campaign is actively competing. But Aaron Blake noted on Friday that there is still a path for the GOP to take control of the Senate:

With six seats listed as “toss-ups” in the latest Fix rankings, a split of those seats would lead to the exact same 53-to-47 Democratic majority that we have today. And for a Republican Party that had designs on regaining the majority, that would certainly be a disappointment.

But with 11 days to go, Republicans also continue to have a very real shot at winning that majority. And that’s because they have something that Democrats don’t: Lots of opportunity.

While the map hasn’t exactly trended in the GOP’s favor in recent months when it comes to the top races (Indiana, Massachusetts and Missouri, in particular), Republicans continue to have plausible opportunities to win in a huge amount of seats that we currently rate as “lean Democratic.”

Recent polls have shown GOP candidates within striking distance — though still trailing — in a bunch of “lean Democratic” states: Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

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