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But David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University, said the vote will give Baucus a basis on which to rebut GOP attempts to portray him as an Obama ally in next year’s campaign. “Sen. Baucus is going to do things that are broadly popular,” Parker said. “He’ll do things so that he can tell Montanans they won’t have a higher tax burden.”
Parker noted that Baucus’ approval rating was only 45 percent in a February poll but predicted the senator will not face a primary challenge from former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Two Republicans are already preparing to oppose Baucus. Champ Edwards is a state representative and Cory Stapleton is a financial adviser and former state senator. Other potential GOP challengers include Rep. Steve Daines, state Attorney General Tim Fox and ex-Gov. Marc Racicot, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Baucus has begun bipartisan, closed-door meetings of his committee to lay groundwork for a tax overhaul.
The senator has a mixed record when it comes to cutting deals on major legislation. Liberals criticized Baucus for prolonging the health care battle by insisting on lengthy bipartisan talks in his committee during the 111th Congress. Baucus eventually became a strong supporter of the health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).
Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University, said Baucus remains a close ally of Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and predicted that Baucus will persuade party leaders and Obama to accept less additional revenue in a deficit reduction plan.
And Baker said Baucus is unlikely to pay much of a price within the Democratic caucus for his independence. “The purge mentality even among liberal Democrats has it limits,” Baker said. “I think he got a bye on that vote. They allowed Baucus to take a walk.”