Big news: Max Baucus to retire

The first Senate casualty of ObamaCare?

First elected in 1978, Baucus has been the top Democrat on the powerful tax-writing committee for more than a dozen years. At times infuriating his Democratic colleagues, he worked with Republicans to co-write the Bush-era tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug plan, but he also served as the lead defender against George W. Bush’s 2005 effort to partially privatize Social Security and played a critical role in writing President Obama’s national health-care plan…

Despite Obama’s double-digit defeat in Montana, Democrats intend to vigorously defend the seat. The leading Democratic candidate is former governor Schweitzer, a popular figure who at times has feuded with Baucus over parochial political issues in the Big Sky state.

He made news twice last week, once for voting against the Democrats’ gun-control bills and the other for warning that ObamaCare, of which he was a lead architect, would be a “train wreck” if not implemented properly. Maybe he hears the train whistle in the distance and figures he’ll get off the tracks now. As for the gun-control votes, two theories. One: He really does believe in gun rights. He’s not just pandering to his red-state constituency. Two: He was fully prepared to run again (he has millions in the bank to fund a campaign), but something happened between last Wednesday and today to make him suddenly reconsider. Hmmm.

Normally the retirement of a six-term Democratic incumbent from a conservative state is cause for celebration, but I don’t know. When PPP polled Montana two months ago, Baucus’s approval was underwater at 45/48. Republicans will be out in force next year for the midterms, and Baucus hasn’t had to run a midterm campaign under a Democratic president since his first election in 1978. With ObamaCare hanging over his head, he was beatable. Brian Schweitzer, his likely replacement as Democratic nominee who once said he couldn’t run for Senate because he’s not “senile enough,” has huge name recognition as governor, a favorable rating of 56/37 per PPP, and none of Baucus’s Senate baggage (“Too tied to the Washington special interests, too aloof, too close to the Obama administration”). Arguably the Democrats are trading up here, to the point where I’m tempted to wonder if maybe they pushed Baucus out somehow. Is that even possible, though, with a six-term Senator who’s written most of the country’s tax laws? They’d have to have some awfully grimy dirt on him. And if they did, why not drop it on him before the gun votes so that he’d vote their way?

Exit question: What will the poor lobbyists do now?

Update: Via NRO’s Andrew Stiles, here’s Schweitzer four days ago checking the gun-rights box:

Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer says his position on gun control is one reason he couldn’t step onto the national political stage.

Political pundits have mentioned Schweitzer as a possible candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports a bearded Schweitzer told some Montana State University students on Thursday that he couldn’t give an acceptable answer to voters in states like Iowa and Florida if they asked him about gun control. He says his response would be something like: “You control yours, I’ll control mine.”

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David Strom 6:01 PM on March 29, 2023