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Brian Schweitzer has some making up to do as he considers a Senate run in Montana in 2014 — and he’ll start with home-state Democrats.
The headline-grabbing, backslapping Democratic populist won a second term as governor in 2008 with nearly two-thirds of the vote, and he remained popular as he moved out of the governor’s mansion in January. But his style and perceived not-a-team-player attitude after eight years in Helena has rubbed numerous people in both parties the wrong way.
That includes — but is hardly limited to — the inner circle of retiring Democratic Sen. Max Baucus. According to several Montana Democrats — who all hope he runs and wins — Schweitzer’s campaign planning has included extending olive branches to a Baucus political apparatus he’ll likely need.
“He is on a charm offensive,” Montana Democratic strategist Barrett Kaiser said. “That’s good because Brian is a smart enough guy to know that he’s going to need more than the $50,000 that the out-of-state netroots are promising him.”
So far, the outreach has not included anyone close to Montana’s other Democratic senator, Jon Tester. Schweitzer, who campaigned on Tester’s behalf in 2006, was noticeably absent from the trail last year, as the first-term senator engaged in one of the toughest re-election campaigns in the country.
Although Tester said in a TV interview last week that he would “bet the farm” that Schweitzer will run, the senator hasn’t yet heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.
“The last time Brian Schweitzer and Jon Tester spoke to each other was before Election Day,” one Montana Democratic insider said. “Jon Tester has not even received a phone call from Brian Schweitzer, so that should tell you where things are.”
Baucus’ retirement puts Democrats’ hopes of holding the seat in this GOP-leaning state in the hands of Schweitzer, a talented politician by all accounts. His solid approval ratings, successful tenure as governor and support among Republicans makes him the obvious — and perhaps only — choice of party leadership.
Despite the rocky relationships, Schweitzer would be favored to win if he runs. Plus, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has signaled it would back his candidacy with significant financial support. Meanwhile, Baucus cut a $100,000 check to the DSCC on Tuesday, an indication that more financial support will come.
Still, Schweitzer hasn’t announced his plans yet. And he had no intention of discussing his Senate aspirations Monday after calling CQ Roll Call, which had reached out to a source close to him for comment.