HELENA – A growing number of Democrats are at least considering running for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2014 after former Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s surprise announcement that he wouldn’t enter the race.
Some new names of potential Democratic candidates have surfaced to join others considering the possibility, while two others mentioned in news stories over the weekend disclaimed interest for various reasons. Others did not return phone calls.
The Montana Senate seat is open because Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, first elected in 1978, said in April he would retire and not seek a seventh six-year term in 2014.
Three current Montana statewide elected officials are names that Democrats were citing as potential candidates, along with two Supreme Court justices who were elected on the nonpartisan ticket.
One is Lt. Gov. John Walsh, a former adjutant general and commander of the Montana National Guard, who took office in January on the ticket headed by Gov. Steve Bullock.
“I have not really thought about it at all,” Walsh said Monday.
Two other Democratic statewide officials are thinking about the Senate race.
State Auditor Monica Lindeen on Saturday called it “a big decision” that she would discuss with her family. On Monday, Lindeen told the Associated Press she’d decide whether to enter the Senate race before Labor Day.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau said Saturday that she needed to talk to family and friends before deciding whether to enter the Senate race.
Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat, a former Democratic state senator from Bozeman who ran for attorney general in 2008, said he just returned from vacation and couldn’t say yet whether he’s interested in the Senate seat.
“It’s one of those things you have to talk about it,” Wheat said. “It’s intriguing when something like that pops up.“
Supreme Court Justice Brian Morris, also mentioned in some news stories, could not be reached for comment.
In May, President Barack Obama nominated Morris to be a U.S. District Court judge in Great Falls. He’ll be a judge for life if confirmed by the Senate.
A new name emerging Monday was that of Shane Colton, a Billings attorney. He said he really enjoyed serving on the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission for the past eight years.
“I think that there’s a future in public service for me, and what that is, I don’t know,” Colton said. “I need to think about that. It’s one of those things I have to talk about it with my pastor, my wife and my mom, and not necessarily in that order.“
Another oft-mentioned name has been Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, a Washington, D.C., group that helps elect Democratic, pro-abortion rights, female candidates to office. Schriock grew up in Butte and was U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s campaign manager in the 2006 general election. Attempts to reach her also were unsuccessful.
Two other names mentioned in news stories over the weekend removed themselves from the field:
“I’ve been married to my beautiful wife for just over a year, and I like chasing trout way too much (to run for the U.S. Senate),” said state Sen. Kendall Van Dyk, D-Billings.
Former state Sen. Mike Halligan, D-Missoula, said he loved the 22 years he spent in the Montana Senate. He now is executive director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.
“But I also love my current job with the Washington Foundation,” Halligan said. “It’s been a perfect fit for me and my family. I can’t envision a scenario that would allow me to get back in public service.“
Meanwhile, national political publications have called Schweitzer’s decision a blow to Democratic chances of retaining the Montana Senate seat in 2014 and possibly maintaining their majority in the U.S. Senate. They expect Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines to jump into the Senate race.
However, the state Democratic Party issued a statement Monday saying Democrats “remain in a strong position” to hold the U.S. Senate and win the U.S. House in Montana. They noted that Montana has elected only two Republicans to the U.S. Senate since 1913, when Americans first elected senators by popular vote.
Daines said Saturday he is concentrating on serving Montanans. He said he will continue to give the decision on whether to run for the Senate the kind of consideration it deserves and talk to his family and Montanans about it.