WASHINGTON – Republicans received a boost in their attempt to win back the majority in the Senate next year when a former Democratic governor bowed out of Montana’s open Senate race, a development that could further hamper President Barack Obama’s agenda during his final two years in office.
Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Saturday he would not run for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Max Baucus in 2014, dealing a blow to Democrats who considered the popular ex-governor their best chance of keeping the office. Republicans have not settled on a candidate in GOP-leaning Montana.
Schweitzer told the Associated Press that he doesn’t want to leave Montana and go to Washington, D.C.
He had been considered the Democrats’ best candidate for holding on to the seat. Schweitzer said he felt compelled to consider the race only because many in his party urged him to run.
“I love Montana. I want to be here. There are all kinds of people that think I ought to be in the United States Senate,” he said. “I never wanted to be in the United States Senate. I kicked the tires. I walked to the edge and looked over.”
But ultimately, he said, “people need to know I am not running.”
The former governor was recently elected board chairman of Stillwater Mining Co., Montana’s largest publicly traded company, and said he is enjoying his life.
In Washington, Republicans need to pick up six seats to recapture the Senate majority and are trying to take advantage of geography and history in their quest. Democrats must defend 21 seats, including seven in largely rural states that Obama lost in 2012, and the party that controls the White House typically loses seats during the midterm elections of a second-term president.
“For the first time in a couple of years, you can see the Democratic majority has never been on shakier ground,” said Rob Jesmer, a Republican strategist and former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Democratic retirements in Republican-leaning states such as West Virginia and South Dakota have given Republicans an advantage. The GOP has recruited popular Republicans for those seats, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds.