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Democrats Start Searching for U.S. Senate Candidate
Until his surprise announcement, Schweitzer was likely to replace Baucus
Democrats have begun looking for a potential candidate for U.S. Senate after former governor Brian Schweitzer's surprise announcement over the weekend that he will not run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Max Baucus.

Party officials said Monday they still believe Democrats are in a strong position to hold the seat even without the popular two-term governor. But Republicans expressed confidence the race is now tilting in their favor.

Attention shifted to Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau and Lt. Gov. John Walsh, considered possible candidates. Lindeen said Monday that she would like to make a decision before Labor Day.

Nationally, Democrats and Republicans consider Montana a key seat as they battle for control of the Senate. Money is expected to pour in from both sides.

"This is a life-changing decision for somebody and their family," Lindeen said. "Obviously, there is pressure to get someone in place to put an organization together and start raising money so you can be competitive."

While Montanans do not register by party, political experts say a GOP candidate for statewide office can assume an advantage of roughly 5 percentage points in the conservative but libertarian-leaning state.

Walsh said he was surprised by Schweitzer's announcement on Saturday because most assumed he would run for the seat that has been held by Baucus since 1979. Walsh, a former Montana National Guard commander who took office this year with Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, said he has been focused on his new job.

"I have not given this, the Senate seat, any thought at all," Walsh said.

Democrats argued they have a track record recently of winning statewide elections and noted that Montana has elected just two Republicans to the U.S. Senate since 1913. Montana's other senator is Jon Tester, a Democrat who won the seat in 2006.

Two Republicans, state Rep. Champ Edmunds and former state Sen. Corey Stapleton, have announced bids but have so far garnered little party support for the race.

Many expect the state's lone House member, Republican Rep. Steve Daines, will run and receive widespread party support. A freshman in Congress, Daines has said only that he is considering it.

The Montana Republican Party announced Monday that a Daines' staffer had been brought on board to run the party's field operations. It said the position was created with money promised by the Republican National Committee.

"From our county central committees all the way up to the national committee in Washington, everyone can see how important the 2014 Senate race is to our state and our nation," state Party Chairman Will Deschamp said. "The RNC has been great about early investment in our work."

The Senate seat is highly coveted compared to the House, which faces elections every two years and is a place where newcomers hold very little sway.

"Why wouldn't Daines run for an open seat? It is a no-brainer now with Schweitzer out of the way," said Montana State University Political Scientist David Parker.

He said Republicans start the race with a lead because of the state's political leanings. He said any Democrat has to run a better campaign, chip away at the Republican's credentials and tell a compelling personal story.

Many were left puzzled by Schweitzer's decision to jilt Democrats who had been counting on him.

Some observers pointed to continuing friction with the operations of Baucus and Tester, which were disturbing Schweitzer's rollout, or recent attacks from Republicans over political nonprofits connected to Schweitzer.

In explaining his decision, Schweitzer said he doesn't want to leave Montana, where he was recently elected board chairman of the Stillwater Mining Co., and move to the nation's capital.

"I don't want a job where I have to wear a suit and my dog isn't welcome," he said.
 
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