Former Montana Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger’s decision to seek the Democratic Senate nomination invited a primary the party didn’t want to have — and pushed a former player in that race back into the picture: former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Schweitzer, who turned down the chance to run for the open seat, spoke with his former lieutenant before Bohlinger’s announcement last week. But Montana Democratic sources said he declined pleas from state party leaders to dissuade Bohlinger from running,
, spoke with his former lieutenant before Bohlinger’s announcement last week. But Montana Democratic sources said he declined pleas from state party leaders to dissuade Bohlinger from running, with Lt. Gov. John Walsh already in the race.
In a phone interview with CQ Roll Call on Tuesday, Schweitzer said only that he had "conversations" with Bohlinger about "the good, the bad and the ugly" about the Senate and Washington, D.C. He thinks both Democrats would make “very good senators” and could defeat likely GOP nominee Rep. Steve Daines, but deciding the nominee is up to Montana voters.
“In fact, I guess I’m responsible since I plucked both of them from obscurity,” Schweitzer said. “To ask me to pick favorites is like asking a father to pick his favorite son.”
Sen. Jon Tester and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, have endorsed Walsh as their candidate for the seat of retiring Sen. Max Baucus. Meanwhile, Tester and Baucus are headlining a fundraiser for Walsh on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
Bohlinger’s decision to run isn’t particularly concerning for party leaders, sources said, but the preference is always to avoid a primary fight that could distract from the general election. The DSCC does not have to contend with the party divisions that have made navigating the primary process far more complicated for Republicans.
However, national Democrats wanted Bohlinger out badly enough that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., personally called him and requested that he exit the race, Bohlinger said in a local TV interview.
Schweitzer selected Bohlinger, a former Republican state legislator, to run with him in 2004 and tapped Walsh as the state’s adjutant general in 2008. Schweitzer's decision not to intervene in the process provided further evidence for some state party leaders that Schweitzer is not a “team player.”
“While Schweitzer’s refusal to help the party is no doubt ruffling some feathers,” one Democratic operative in the state said, “at the end of the day, everyone knows John Walsh is the strongest chance to hold this seat for Democrats, and there’s no real question that he will be the candidate."
Still, the seat presents a top pickup opportunity for Republicans, who must net six seats to win the Senate majority next year, and Bohlinger, 77, has already started making waves. He compared “tea party representatives” who pushed for a government shutdown to the Taliban and criticized Tester and national Democrats for backing Walsh, 53, according to the Billings Gazette.
Despite a fundraising disadvantage, Schweitzer believes Bohlinger has a shot at the nomination.
"If you were to poll it right now you would find that John Bohlinger has very high name recognition and favorables among Democrats and independents," Schweitzer said. "John Walsh doesn’t have nearly as high name recognition. That comes with time."