Schweitzer to Dems: No thanks on Senate race

This could be a very big deal in the 2014 election — perhaps big enough to give Harry Reid second thoughts about his upcoming nuclear option in the Senate.  With another tough midterm election approaching, Democrats already face tough challenges to incumbents in red states.  They thought they could hold the Montana seat vacated by Max Baucus’ retirement by having popular governor Brian Schweitzer contend for it, but Schweitzer surprised Democrats by bailing on the bid:

Former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Saturday he won’t run for the Senate in Montana — a surprise development that imperils Democrats’ chances of holding the seat in 2014.

He told the Associated Press 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. 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. …

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.

Political prognosticator Larry Sabato believes this takes the GOP halfway to wresting control of the Senate away from Democrats:

It doesn’t help Reid and Barack Obama to lose Schweitzer.  Schweitzer may have struggled to beat a Republican in this cycle too, but in Montana he represented the best bet for a clear Democratic advantage, even with the baggage.  Now they’ll have to draft someone with a lower presence and name recognition, in a state that went for Mitt Romney by thirteen points last November.  Without Barack Obama on the top of the ticket and with ObamaCare collapsing, any Democrat will have two strikes against him or her from the starting block.

This makes losing the majority in November 2014 much more likely.  Will that get Harry Reid to take his finger off the nuclear button next week?  If not, it might peel off a few Democrats who will have to live in the minority starting in January 2015 and rob Reid of his chance to wipe out the filibuster anyway.

Update: As for the fiction that Democrats had changed their mind about Schweitzer before he bailed, Chris Cillizza disposes of that forthwith: