Former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s surprise announcement Saturday that he won’t run for Senate in Montana imperils Democrats’ chances of holding the seat and could further narrow an ever-shrinking 2014 Senate map.
Already, Republicans are favored to win two seats left vacant by Democratic retirements — in West Virginia and South Dakota — and the Schweitzer move will make it much easier for the GOP to win in Montana.
That means the battle for the majority will likely be fought in a handful of red states with Democratic incumbents, including North Carolina, Arkansas and Alaska.
Schweitzer roiled the Senate landscape when he told the Associated Press Saturday that he wants to stay in Montana rather than move to Washington, D.C. But his potential candidacy was also raising red flags within the party: After weeks of courting the 57-year-old Schweitzer, Democratic leaders reversed course in recent days.
Scrutinizing Schweitzer’s past, they concluded there was too much ammunition for Republicans to use against him in the campaign to replace the retiring veteran Democrat Max Baucus, according to a source familiar with the thinking of those leaders.
Polls had shown the gregarious and folksy ex-governor as a favorite in the race, given his popularity after two terms in office. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had said as recently as Wednesday there would be “tremendous support” for Schweitzer if he decided to run.
Schweitzer had been hit with a series of damaging stories about his ties to “secret money” and a nonprofit group run by former aides. But sources said the laundry list of opposition research went much deeper — and could have crippled a Schweitzer campaign for Senate. Moreover, there was fear that Schweitzer’s penchant for off-the-cuff remarks would hurt his ability to respond effectively to the barrage of GOP attacks.For an example, see the clip from America Rising: