Max Baucus Retires and Democrats Celebrate, Nervously

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) boards an elevator at the U.S. Captiol on March 22, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Really, they do! Sure, the fact that Montana Sen. Max Baucus will retire after six full terms means that Democrats will have to “defend an open seat.” But for quite a while now, western progressives were making noise about challenging Baucus in a primary. Their ideal candidate: Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the bolo-tie-and-jeans wearing pro-coal populist. They suggested that a local pol with high favorables and little connection to Washington (though you could always pull his Obama-boosting 2008 convention speech) was a stronger candidate that a man who, since 2008…


- married a former staffer

- suggested that this former staffer, now wife, would be a solid U.S. attorney for Montana

- passed the least-popular version of the Affordable Care Act through his Finance Committee

- went on record worrying that implementation (stalled on many fronts in the states) would be a train wreck


- single-handedly populated much of K Street, though to be fair 36 years in Washington will have that effect.

Polling would give evidence to the haters. Two months ago Public Policy Polling found that Schweitzer would lead Baucus by 19 points if he faced him in a primary. Baucus trailed the GOP’s best candidate, former Gov. Marc Racicot, by 5 points; Schweitzer trailed him by 1. (Republicans have been asking for Racicot to run ever since he left office.)

But Baucus leaves behind a legacy of truly inspiring scorched-earth campaigns. He had $5 million in the bank, which was spooking possible opponents even despite his so-so poll numbers. No one had forgotten how he ethered the last Republican who seemed to have a shot against him.

A key Baucus staffer during that race was Jim Messina, better known now as the 2012 campaign manager for Obama-Biden.