In Montana, Democrats Might Have Found Their Guy

Montana Senate race not off the Democrats' map yet.


John Walsh, Montana's lieutenant governor and member of the Montana National Guard, is now Democrats’ top recruit for replacing Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

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For 100 years, the seat has been in the Democrats' control.

Now with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., retiring, the party must find the candidate who can defy the odds, win the Senate race, and carry on that tradition.

[READ: Democrats Aren't Throwing in the Towel in Montana Senate Race]

History might be on their side, but demographics, the electoral map and timing are not.

Montana has two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor, but the state leans right; Mitt Romney, the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, dominated President Barack Obama by 13 points.

"Democrats have no chance," says David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University who is working on a book about Sen. Jon Tester's, D-Mont., narrow re-election victory in 2012. "History shows the president's party gets punished in midterm elections and Montana is the place where they likely will."

Democrats nationally have a host of vulnerable Senate seats to defend in the midterm election in states like North Carolina, Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

So far they've had trouble fielding a candidate who could win. Popular, bolo tie-wearing, straight talking, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer announced in July he'd be sitting this one out, EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock opted against a run for Senate, and Denise Juneau, the Montana State Superintendent of Public Instruction, also bowed out.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee seized on what they characterized as Democratic recruitment woes.

But Democrats may have a surprise still up their sleeves, however.

Several Democrats in the state confirm John Walsh, Montana's lieutenant governor, is now the top recruit who will make his final decision in upcoming weeks. He spent time in Washington this week meeting with party leaders.

Walsh, a member of the Montana National Guard, an Iraq War veteran and a bronze star recipient, breaks a lot of stereotypes.

"It's an exciting turn of events," one Democratic operative says. "You look at John Walsh and you see a salt of the earth leader. He's not a politician. Montanans like that."

[ALSO: Will EMILY's List Director Become a Politician Herself?]

Pundits in Montana say Walsh can capitalize on the infrastructure and volunteer base left over from Tester's campaign, which boasted an elaborate ground game and effectively mobilized women and Native American voters to win the race.

But already, Walsh has had a bit of a mishap, a sign of his inexperience in the spotlight. Thursday, Buzzfeed reported Walsh pushed "like" on a photo of breasts. Immediately, the account was scrubbed and Walsh said it had been an innocent mistake.

"It looks like D.C. Republicans are so fearful of John Walsh running for Senate that they're attacking a war hero with spam. That's the best they got?," one Democrat told BuzzFeed.

But his competition will be fierce.

Republicans expect freshman Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., to jump in the race, pitting Walsh against a well-known tech industry leader in Montana.

Daines, fresh off a successful race for the House of Representatives also has an aggressive, statewide ground game to resurrect, Republicans say. And he's got money in the bank.

Already, he has raised more than $630,000 for 2014, campaign finance reports show.

Bowen Greenwood, the executive director of Montana's Republican Party, says Republicans are counting on the Democrats being spread too thin this election cycle to support their candidate financially.

[MORE: Veteran Max Baucus to Retire]

"I am optimistic that the DSCC is not going to be able to pour the money into this race," Greenwood says.

Daines also has the backing of the libertarian wing of his party thanks to his positioning on foreign policy. He announced he wouldn't support a strike against Syria earlier this month, much to the cheers of constituents back home, tired of U.S. intervention.

"Daines is the strongest candidate Republicans can possibly have hands down. If he does decide to run, he'd give us the immediate edge."

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