Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Race of the Day- Montana U.S. Senate

63 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Safe Republican

Over the past few cycles, a variety of circumstances have caused Republicans to be frustratingly shut out in Senate contests in Big Sky Country. A scandal plagued and gaffe prone incumbent went down to defeat, a gadfly with no real ties to the party somehow won a Senate primary, and most recently a golden opportunity to pick up a seat ended in defeat after a Libertarian candidate received enough votes to save a Democrat. Thus, despite the fact that Montana votes Republican for President, both Senate seats have been held by Democrats for the past eight years. This year though, the tables have turned and the Democrats' lucky streak has run out.

Democrat Max Baucus had been in the Senate since 1978, but in recent years, he had worked up the ire of many liberals around the country due in part to his ties to banking interests. He had become gradually more unpopular and looked like he could be a prime target in 2014, not only against a strong Republican, but even in a Democrat primary. Many on the left started to look at the state's recently out of office Governor, Brian Schweitzer, a folksy populist who despite his liberalism, had achieved statewide political success. They thought that Schweitzer would be able to defeat Baucus in a primary and would be an even stronger general election candidate. However, the incumbent announced in 2013 that he would not be facing the votes again, leaving many Democrats to be even more giddy, as they took it for a certainty that Schweitzer would run and take over the Senate seat.

The former Governor threw people in both parties for a loop though by announcing he would not run for the Senate, and had no desire to serve in a legislative body, despite his having made his political debut as an unsuccessful U.S. Senate nominee once. The Democrats were suddenly left looking at other options, and Republicans felt better about their chances of winning an open seat in a conservative leaning state during a midterm.

The state's new Lt. Governor John Walsh would be among three Democrats to enter the race, as would his predecessor as Lt. Governor, John Bohlinger, who despite having been a long-time Republican, ran on a ticket with Schweitzer, and portrayed himself as the true progressive in the race. The political establishment in the state heavily favored Walsh though, who was a good deal younger and seemingly more in tune with the state's electorate. In the meanwhile, Republicans were very focused on finding a candidate who could end their Senate losing streak, and after some time of maneuvering, were able to recruit Steve Daines, who had just the previous November been elected to the state's At Large Congressional seat. The new Congressman decided he was willing to cut his House career short for a promotion and he would eventually cruise to a July primary win.

During this time, Daines was running strong in general election polls and seemed like the strong favorite to win the open seat over his likely opponent Walsh. Then, Max Baucus was suddenly no longer a Senator after Barack Obama nominated him and he was confirmed as the new Ambassador to China. The current Democrat Governor Steve Bullock would have an appointment to make and most expected that he would make his own Lt. Governor, Walsh, a Senator, giving him the advantage of incumbency and a campaign finance boost headed into the election. Some tried to appeal to the Governor not to do that, notably Senate candidate Bohlinger, but whether this was all in motion by the White House or not, the appointment of Walsh went through. Bohlinger realized he had no real shot of winning a primary at this point against a new incumbent, but sort of stayed in the race. John Walsh, having now arrived on Capitol Hill, would win the primary with 64 percent of the vote.

Democrats were optimistic that Walsh would now have a fighter's chance against Daines in the fall, but polls continued to see Daines ahead. Then, the race would suddenly take turns that strongly resemble what happened in Illinois a decade ago, when a Republican nominee was forced to drop out of a race, and the party turned to the bombastic and controversial conservative Alan Keyes in a quixotic attempt to oppose the Senate coronation of Barack Obama.

A story broke, where in strongly sourced detail, Walsh was accused of plagiarism while studying at the Army War College. The Senator, a longtime member of the military, and Iraq War veteran, admitted to academic wrong-doing while at the college. He then seemed to blame it on what he had seen during the war and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while denying he was really trying to use that as an excuse. In any event, the damage was done, and Walsh, who would be facing investigations both from the college and in the U.S. Senate, looked like a political goner. Daines really had no need to even say anything about the developing situation. Calls for Walsh to leave the campaign and even resign from the U.S. Senate would intensify, and in short order, Walsh dropped out of the race in order to focus on completing what will be a very short appointed tenure in Senate.

The Democrats had an opportunity to pick a replacement candidate for the fall campaign, but some probably wondered why they might even bother at this point. Speculation immediately turned to Schweitzer again, but he had gotten in trouble for some very odd and off color remarks about political figures from other states in which he had to apologize for. He still was not interested in running for the Senate, and the party pretty much looked past Bohlinger or the lesser known candidate who finished third in the primary. In 2004, Illinois Republicans tried to get Coach Mike Ditka to run as a replacement nominee and in 2014 Montana Democrats tried to get actor Jeff Bridges into the race. He would turn them down.

Last month, a convention was held, and a nomination that few Democrats felt was still worth having went to State Representative Amanda Curtis. She is about to turn 35 years old, was not running for a second term to her State House seat, and would likely be the only U.S. Senator with a nose ring. More troubling for her statewide ambitions is her online political footprint and YouTube videos.  For one thing, she seemed to be a fan of avowed Communist political figures throughout history, and of "Revolutionary Socialism." State Republicans posted clips of her vlogging against gun rights and coming very close to disparaging Christianity and the family unit. In the videos, she also declared herself an "anarchist at heart" and talked about wanting to punch a fellow legislator.

To be sure, many on the left will applaud her unapologetic "progressive" views and talk of her as being a breath of fresh air who will inspire people to follow her. That's precisely the sort of thing that many on the right once said about Alan Keyes. There really are so many similarities in these two situations. A big difference though is that Keyes would talk on end about any subject without even taking a breath, and thus far in the campaign, Curtis has appeared to be ill-informed on national issues and uncomfortably froze for several seconds during a television interview.

So, this race is basically over. Daines has probably been the favorite from the start, but now he really has to sit back and think how lucky he might be. Democrats probably wish that Baucus had never decided to retire after all, or that Bullock would have appointed someone other than Walsh, or maybe even that Walsh would have just begged for forgiveness and remained in the race. Amanda Curtis was an immensely odd pick for the party to put forward in what was supposed to be a battleground Senate race. She may or may not hurt other Democrats elsewhere in the country, but she certainly will not be a help to many in Montana this year with a D next to their name, but she will be making it easy for a Republican whose last name starts with that letter.

Daines campaign link:


Senate races predicted thus far: 7 D (4 Safe, 2 Leans, 1 Tossup), 12 R (4 Safe, 2 Likely, 4 Leans, 2 Tossup)
Overall predicted thus far: 41 D, 42 R (net Republican gain of 5)


At 5:34 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Daines will likely win in a massive landslide in the vacant Montana U.S. Senate race in November.


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