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  Comments (8) Total Thursday Apr. 17, 2014
Baucus Departure Adds Wrinkle to Montana Senate Race
The six-term Democrat’s nomination as the nation’s next ambassador to China is sending shockwaves through the political world
U.S. Senator Max Baucus addresses a crowd of Kalispell community members and business leaders at the new Flathead County Rail Park off Whitefish Stage Road. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
 News of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus’ nomination as the nation’s next envoy to China bowled over political pundits already paying close attention to Montana’s high-profile race for the Senate. It also invited immediate speculation about how the move will affect the campaign to replace him.

If confirmed, the six-term Democrat, who sent shockwaves through the political world when he announced his plans to retire at the end of 2014, will exchange his powerful position as head of the Finance Committee for a diplomatic key to the U.S. Embassy in China. The decision invites speculation about how the move will affect the campaign to replace him next year.

A cutthroat race is already underway to fill Baucus’ seat, with U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., long considered a favorite, and Democratic nominee Lt. Governor John Walsh running at the vanguard.

Given Baucus’ 35-year commitment to the Senate and the critical nature of maintaining strong ties with China, observers say Baucus is a shoo-in, paving the way for a rapid confirmation. That means Gov. Steve Bullock will be in charge of appointing an interim senator to fill Baucus’ seat.

To many, Walsh seems like the obvious choice, though it’s not clear whether an appointment that would give the Democratic candidate 10 months in office before voters cast a ballot would serve as an advantage or a handicap.

David Parker, an associate professor of political science at Montana State University, cites data showing that only about 43 percent of appointed senators who run for their seat win their elections, compared to 85 percent of incumbents.

In a guest blog post for the Washington Post, Parker and University of Montana associate professor of political science Robert Saldin, opined that there are several reasons Republicans are still favored to win the seat, even if Walsh is tapped for the temporary seat in Washington.

“While Democrats might cite the power of incumbency, incumbent appointees are very different from incumbents who were elected,” the post states.

The post goes on to state that, of the 52 senators appointed to fill seats as of 2012, only 22 — or 42 percent — have been reelected.

“So appointing Walsh to the Senate seat is hardly the game changer you might think,” according to the blog.

The professors also point to a national political climate that will likely favor Republicans this election cycle, and the advantages that Daines has enjoyed and cultivated since he entered the campaign. He’s Montana’s lone sitting congressman, for one, and has become popular among moderates and Tea Party conservatives alike.

Speculation about a Democratic appointee hasn’t just focused on Walsh, running the gamut after the news of Baucus’ pending nomination broke Dec. 18. The Hill, a Washington publication, reported that Jim Messina, manager of President Barack Obama’s successful 2012 re-election campaign and a University of Montana graduate, “fielded calls from high-level officials in Montana asking if he would serve as a placeholder for Baucus.”

The following day, Messina dispelled those rumors when he tweeted: “Great hearing from so many friends Helping @BarackObama & growing Messina Group is my focus. No US Sen. Apt for me. #GoGriz #MTSEN.”

Other names bandied about as possibilities included former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams and former state Senate Majority Leader Carol Williams.

But all the focus on the potential election shake-up caused by Baucus’ nomination as U.S. ambassador to China hasn’t stopped the longtime senator from beaming, nor has it deterred his fellow Montana Democrats from heaping praise and congratulations on the senator.

“I am humbled by the nomination and deeply honored to have the opportunity to represent the United States in China,” according to a statement from Baucus’ office. “The U.S.–China relationship is one of the world’s most important bilateral relationships. If confirmed, my goal will be to further strengthen diplomatic and economic ties between our two nations.”

Walsh, who has the support of Baucus, Tester and Bullock, joined in the chorus, sending out a statement that read: “I join all Montanans in wishing him the best. Max’s service reminds us that Montana needs senators who are committed to courage, selfless service and responsibility.”

Tester said he was just as surprised by the news of Baucus’ nomination as he was when his colleague announced his retirement.
“I figured they’d have to carry him out of here feet first,” Tester told the Beacon.

Still, he offered his congratulations and utmost confidence.

Said Tester: “With his years of service on the Finance Committee and deep knowledge of U.S. trade policy, Max will be a tremendous representative for the American people in China. I will miss his leadership and partnership in the Senate, but I know he will continue to serve Montana and the nation to the best of his ability.”

Added Bullock: “Max has dedicated his life to public service and the notion that, through hard work, he could make Montana an even greater place – something I first got to see as a high school student visiting his office. From helping create the Children’s Health Insurance Program to beating back attempts to privatize Social Security, Max has always put Montanans first. I thank him for his service to our state and wish him the best of luck with his new responsibility, representing our country overseas.”

Baucus was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1974 and to the U.S. Senate in 1978. Baucus would replace outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke. Baucus’ nomination is subject to a confirmation vote by the Senate.
On 12-28-13, Gators commented....
Max your time is up…go to Wally World if want a job!  You did enough!!
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