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News from the Votemaster

Lt. Gov. John Walsh Appointed to Replace Baucus in the Senate

On Thursday, the Senate confirmed now-former senator Max Baucus to be the new American ambassador to China by a vote of 96 to 0. Baucus immediately resigned from the Senate, leaving it up to Montana governor Steve Bullock (D) to appoint an interim replacement. He lost no time in doing that, appointing his own lieutenant governor, John Walsh to the seat. Baucus would have been up for reelection in November, but had already announced he was going to retire. This means that Walsh can run for a full 6-year term in November. Several other people have already filed to run for the seat, including John Bohlinger, a Republican who served as lieutenant governor on a bipartisan ticket with former Democratic governor Brian Schweitzer. Bohlinger filed to run as a Democrat despite being a lifelong Republican. As a 77-year-old Republican running for the Democratic nomination for senator against a 53-year-old incumbent Democrat, Bohlinger has no chance whatsoever and will probably withdraw. Even if the other candidates for the Democratic nomination stay in the race, none of them will have a chance against an incumbent senator. Walsh will basically ignore the primary and focus entirely on the general election.

Walsh's appointment is hugely important for control of the Senate. The Democrats can afford to lose up to five Senate seats and still maintain control of the Senate and this one will be one of the most highly contested. Appointed senators have a so-so track record of being elected. Somewhat less than half make it on their own, although some are placeholders who never intended to be career senators. Walsh is well known in the state as a result of his statewide campaign for lieutenant governor in 2012. Before that, he served for 30 years in the Montana National Guard, retiring in 2012 as a brigadier general. His long military background will make it harder for the Republicans to claim he is soft on anything.

Montana's lone representative, Steve Daines (R), is running for the Republican nomination but he will have a real primary against state representative Champ Edmunds. Daines is the establishment favorite, but it is not a done deal as we have seen establishment favorites lose senatorial primaries in many states in the past 5 years.

Early polling has put Daines ahead of Walsh by double digits, but those polls were taken before Walsh became a senator, with all the advantages incumbency brings. While Montana usually goes for Republicans in presidential elections, it is not a solid Republican state, like say, Idaho. Both the current and previous governors are Democrats, as is the other senator, Jon Tester. In fact, with the one exception of Conrad Burns, you have to go back to 1946 to find the last time Montana elected a Republican to the Senate.

President Obama's choice of Baucus for ambassador to China is a bit odd. Baucus doesn't speak Mandarin nor does he have any obvious connection to China, like the previous ambassador, third-generation Chinese American Gary Locke. Baucus has visited China several times, but is certainly no expert on the country. What he is an expert on, however, is international trade, and that is clearly Obama's priority with respect to China.

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---The Votemaster
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