Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday he told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to mind his own "damn business" when the Nevada Democrat phoned him last year in an effort to influence his appointment to succeed Max Baucus in the Senate.
According to an account in the Helena Independent Record , Bullock told Montana reporters about his terse words with Reid. The phone call occurred before the administration's announcement that Baucus would be nominated to be ambassador to China.
The Nevada Democrat had a big stake in the electability of Bullock's pick. Reid's party can lose no more than five Senate races to maintain his majority leader status, and the open-seat contest in Montana is one of the GOP's top pickup opportunities in November. Bullock, a Democrat, ultimately chose Lt. Gov. John Walsh, who was already running for Senate. Baucus announced his retirement from the Senate early last year.
“He wanted to weigh in on who I should choose and this was before it was even public,” Bullock said of Reid. “And I said it was none of your damn business.”
Bullock would not say whether Reid suggested a replacement for Baucus, telling reporters to reach out to the majority leader's camp for confirmation. A Reid spokesperson declined comment.
But Bullock did further outline his message to Reid in that December call.
“I said, ‘You know what. Stay out of my decision-making. This is a decision I make and no one else. This is one of those decisions that voters have entrusted me with,’” Bullock continued.
Capitol Hill aides in both parties have privately speculated that Baucus' appointment, and subsequent confirmation, to be President Barack Obama's top emissary in China was politically strategic. They predicted the Montana governor would pick a Democratic seat warmer, who then would have a brief incumbent advantage in what likely will be a very close race.
Bullock denied knowledge of such a plan.
“If there was a backroom deal, I certainly was never invited to that back room,” he said.
The Montana Senate race is rated a Tossup/Tilts Republican contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.