Schweitzer Out. Can Democrats Retain the Baucus Seat?

Governor Schweitzer is out of the running for the 2014 Senate race, leading Democrats to wonder who might run for the Baucus seat and whether or not any of those potential candidates can defeat the Republican’s presumptive candidate, Steve Daines.

After a few moments of despair this morning, I think Democrats can retain the seat, but it’s going to be a tremendous challenge.  A tremendous challenge. The Republicans are going to pour enormous resources into this race, because they see the Senate in reach—and one can only assume that sleaze merchants like some version of American Tradition Partnership and the Watchdog are already revving up their smear machines.

Democrats running in primaries in Montana have to strike a challenging balance. They need to remain viable in general elections without alienating moderate voters, but I think that Democrats who lose in Montana are often so concerned about the latter that they forget the importance of fighting for Democratic principles. They emerge victorious from primary season, but without any army behind them.

The candidate who emerges from a Democratic primary in Montana needs to remember that Jon Tester won in 2006 and 2012 precisely because he had thousands of volunteers knocking on doors, making phone calls, and registering their friends to vote.  Those volunteers were there because they knew Tester stood for strong Democratic principles—and won’t be there for a candidate who runs a safe race to the middle.

The problem with the House field from 2012, in my view, was that none of the candidates generated any real passion beyond a small group of supporters. Senator Tester won his races (starting in the primary) in 2006 by firing up the base. His team recognized that Burns and Rehberg were going to try to depict him as a radical out of touch with Montana, so it couldn’t hurt him to associate with (and represent) Democratic constituencies.

As for Governor Schweitzer, I doubt we’ve seen the last of him on the political stage—and even if we have, I’d like to thank him for his years of service as Montana’s governor. Without his efforts, this state would look very different than it does today. He cut short a reactionary Republican agenda that would have undermined social services, education, the environment, reproductive rights, and the very identity of Montana. Thanks for standing up for us, Governor.

If there is any truth to the terrible Politico reporting that Democratic sniping against Schweitzer helped push him out of the race, I hope those Democrats are terribly satisfied with themselves.  There’s nothing more energizing to Democratic candidates and supporters than knowing that people within the party are going to tear down candidates who don’t massage their egos sufficiently.

Apologies for the odd flow I created in the comments. There was a spammer I neglected to catch and some people inadvertently responded to him.
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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • In terms of the blue knives coming out to fillet one of their own, there is not much difference than what happened to Baucus. Just politics from the inside.

    As to Schweitzer, I thank him for his service and wish him a happy and rewarding retirement from public life.

  • Don says, “If there is any truth to the terrible Politico reporting that Democratic sniping against Schweitzer helped push him out of the race, I hope those Democrats are terribly satisfied with themselves. There’s nothing more energizing to Democratic candidates and supporters than knowing that people within the party are going to tear down candidates who don’t massage their egos sufficiently.”

    Well said. The fact that all the sources making negative comments in the Politico story were anonymous says a lot. It takes a special kind of spineless jerk to tear someone down anonymously.

    • Some other thoughts on Democrat’s chances for holding the senate seat — listen to Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager in 2012. Personal contact is the most important: knocking on doors, friends talking to friends, neighbors to neighbors, families to families. It’s the most influence one can have in a campaign, this personal contact, way more influential than TV or flyers or email blasts (although electronic media is important). That’s Messina’s second point — technology — the use of social media, data assessment, modeling and targeting.

      But I agree with Don, hone your message and stay true to Democratic principles. This seat can be held. Everyone seems to be enamored with Daines and I can’t figure out why. He’s basically Rehberg Lite and besides having a bunch of bucks, I don’t see the appeal.

      • principles don’t seem to translate into victories, is what I keep hearing. I also hear the unprincipled noise of double standards when it comes to things we can objectively say damages the political process, like dark money, but can’t seem to put into practice when it comes to how the political game has to be played in order to win.

        and that personal contact you mention, Pete, combined with the data those visits are generating , looks much different considering the now known capabilities of the surveillance state.

        who knows what will have happened by the elections in 2014, but I have a hunch that the Obama administration will have soured many younger voters on Democrats, pushing them toward libertarian hustlers pretending to be libertarians.

  • I keep thinking bout that little cartoon of Brian zapping all his Republican opponents.

    Maybe you could put it back up with him zapping MT Democrats.

  • It would be great to avoid a devisive Democratic senate primary. Let’s find a solid, principled candidate early and get behind him/her. Daines will have an unobstructed track to the Republican nomination.

    • I hope your wrong, Turner. Although Daines is hard right, there are many Republicans to the right of him. Champ Edmunds is one. Let’s hope Montana Republicans continue to eat their own. And, as I mentioned above, I just don’t see Daines’ appeal (besides having a bunch of money). What has he done of note?

      • I think you’re right about Daines. Substantively, he’s done nothing and he’s functionally Rehberg without the gaffes (the subject of a post I’m working on now).

        What he did very well in the 2012 was not tell Montanans how reactionary he is. I doubt he’ll be able to do that under the lights of a Senate race.

        • I would disagree Don. Daines has already made a shitload of mistakes.

          Trying to vote down Obama care

          Voting against women, students, food stamps allowing farm subsidies to rise for big corporate farms, while shafting the majority of little farmers in our state…. Fiscal hawk my butt!

          Then there is the laws he is sponsoring that just like Rehberg are written for corporate buddies.

          H.R.1434 Prohibits any further extension or establishment of national parks and monuments in Montana, except by express authorization of Congress.

          Just exactly what does that BS mean…. If the government goes ahead and names another park or monument in Montana… well thats okay with him???? Red meat cuz it actually means Nothing!

          or how about H.R.1672 where Daines gives up hunting access to 18,000 acres in the lime hills for Military target shooting only?

          Then theres H.R.2259 where the government give up all the lands around mining interests in the North Fork Watershed of Montana, because … hey, they do a better job of protecting pristine waterways?? Really? Nothing like dropping the clean water act so mines and fracking companies can continue to pollute the drink water.

          Or how about we just give the mining companies, the chance to dam up rivers and streams and poison all the headwaters we can give them H.R.1963 Promise to do just that. and to fool people will call it a Jobs bill, that will eventually poison all the people and wildlife downstream.

          He is a doozy this Steve Daines, he is trying to get a hold of all the water he can for fracking, and mining. because his corporate bosses believe in climate change, and they will need to continue using what will become a finite resource when climate change will make farmers need more water to refresh there crops. Yep you farmers and ranchers are already getting the wool pulled over your eyes cuz you don’t donate as much as the mineral companies do to his campaign.

          The mans already showing himself as a taker of montana heritage time to dump him before he does irreparable damage to our healthy water, farming and tourism.

          • I may not have made my point very well. I think he’s made the same bad policy decisions Rehberg did; he’s just a lot less likely to say truly idiotic things or load his staff up on a boat for a drunken midnight cruise.

            • Well hes not any brighter than Denny thats for sure. he follows the RW agenda like he is standing on a conveyor belt

              The bills sponsored by him so far…. prove he is being manipulated by the same crowd as Denny, they are more aggressive, more than willing to damage the ecology of this state.

  • Schweitzer has a knack for getting the guns-in-pickups crowd to recognize that their enlightened economic self-interest is not served by Republican policies. He gives the Bubbas and Betty Lous cultural reassurances that no other Democrat can provide.

    We’ll need at least a few more days to learn why Schweitzer decided not to run; to learn whether that strange clicking in his closet was the rattle of dirty skeletons; to learn whether Democrats more intent on settling scores than on winning the election slid in the shiv; to learn whether Schweitzer just decided he’d rather stay in Montana; to learn whether that strange smell is a skunk or rotten egg.

    Meanwhile, Democrats make a mistake if they think Steve Daines is a pushover. He easily dispatched Kim Gillan, making her seem shrill and small in the process. He appears calm and reasonable. And in 2014, he’ll be running in a midterm election in which Democratic turnout will be low. I think he’ll run for the Senate, and I think the odds that he’ll be elected are overwhelming.

  • I disagree that we need drink the Kool-Aid and buy the “BS right or wrong ’cause he’s a D” line. It’s not the “spineless” who run down Schweitzer, it’s the survivors. He’s badly hurt a lot of good people, his loyalty at all costs mentality ran a lot of good people out of politics and some out of the state. We had the hope of a 50-50 legislature thanks to the work of the 2000 reapportionment commission and BS bled it away by valuing loyalty over message; ass-kissing over independent thought. I’ll give him his due that he’s a hell of a campaigner and no one can play to Bubba better than BS, but his shortcomings are catching up to him and I for one can only say that I’m glad they did BEFORE he got into the race instead of halfway through it.

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