Max Baucus and the Big Sky Buy Off

Yesterday, Erika brought up the subject of how certain endangered species Democrats – such as Mary Landrieu – might be seeing some possible benefits for themselves from the likely appointment of Max Baucus as the new ambassador to China. But that’s far from the end of the story as we find out more and more about the potential back room deals which could have gone into this selection. Back in Big Sky country, had the situation played out in the normal course of events, there was going to be a very competitive race going on for a certain Senate seat. (And there still will be, no doubt.) But with the presumed exit of Baucus as he heads off to China, the Governor will have the unusual opportunity to temporarily fill the seat, giving a member of his own party a definite leg up in not only the Democratic primary, but potentially in the general election as well.

Montana’s political world grappled Wednesday with a sudden twist in the 2014 race for U.S. Senate – numerous news outlets are reporting that longtime U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) would leave the Senate early for an ambassadorship in China, leaving Gov. Steve Bullock (D) to appoint his successor, well before voters have a chance to pick one next November.

Bullock’s most obvious choice would be Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D), whom Bullock has already endorsed for the position. Incumbency could give Walsh a possible advantage in both the Democratic primary and the general election, most likely against U.S. Representative Steve Daines (R-MT).

But it may not be so simple, and appointing Walsh could bring its own set of political liabilities.

Plenty of players in Montana politics had an opinion Wednesday evening – almost everyone, it seemed, except the three men closest to the situation: Baucus, Bullock and Walsh.

This is a risky move, even if it was one being pushed – as has been rumored – by Harry Reid, who would like to see John Walsh get a head start in the race. It not only makes it look to the voters of Montana as if the Governor is short sheeting their options, but his own party will have other hopefuls who won’t appreciate being shoved to the back of the line.

Far easier for Governor Bullock, or so it would seem, would be to simply appoint an elder statesman caretaker from his own party with no interest in running for a full term of their own. This would remove the appearance of him having his thumb on the scale and allowing the voters their full say. This opinion, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, is echoed by a former congressman from the Governor’s own party, Pat Williams.

“My own thinking is that he should not appoint one of those candidates, because that would be like favoring them, for both the June primary, as well as the November election next year. I think he ought to appoint somebody who would just be a place holder,” Williams said.

While Senator Baucus wouldn’t confirm reports that he is about to be nominated by President Obama to be U.S. Ambassador to China, his spokeswoman said Baucus would be a natural for the job.

Senate politics is a chess match that never ends, and Harry Reid does his best to keep his fingers on all the pieces. We should also remember that this is hardly the first time that an Obama appointment has had “coincidental” side benefits in the political arena, often with the help and advice of the Democrats’ Senate and House leadership. The last time Barack Obama sent someone off to China – John Huntsman – it was widely considered to have political implications. We could be seeing a pattern here.

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Jazz Shaw 10:01 AM on June 04, 2023