Last week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus made headlines for declaring that President Obama’s health care law — which Baucus helped design — was a looming “train wreck.” At the time, I speculated that Baucus, up for re-election in 2014, seemed to be positioning himself to argue that the health care law was well-designed but poorly implemented. In the end, Baucus, first elected to the Senate in 1978, decided that he wouldn’t stand up to Montana voters and defend his authorship of Obamacare after all. Several media outlets are now reporting that Baucus intends to retire at the expiration of his term rather than seek re-election.
On the surface, this would appear to be an opening for Republicans in Montana, a state that Mitt Romney carried by 13 points against Obama. But the Montana GOP has had a history of blowing winnable Senate races in the state. Also, Democrats are trying to recruit former Gov. Brian Schweitzer to run for the seat. A survey by Democratic Public Policy Polling taken in February found that Schweitzer actually performed better than Baucus in general election match-ups against several potential Republican opponents.
One factor that could weigh on Schweitzer is his 2016 ambitions, as he’s been discussed as a possible dark horse candidate. On the one hand, winning a closely watched Senate race will elevate his profile and probably help him make connections with big donors and earn him favors with other important players in Democratic politics. On the other hand, running for president from the Senate would make it harder for him to position himself as a Washington outsider in any presidential run — and if he loses, that would cripple his chances.