Montana Senate race on ice as Schweitzer weighs making a run

Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) has frozen Montana’s Senate race with his refusal to rush a decision on a bid — and he seems to like it just fine that way.

“Washington, D.C., is full of people that respond to pressure. I don’t think Washington, D.C., needs another person like that,” Schweitzer told The Hill on Monday, when asked if he was feeling pushed by Washington Democrats to quickly decide on a 2014 campaign. 


Democrats view Schweitzer as their best chance, by far, of winning the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (D-Mont.). 

Republicans feel the same way. And some potential candidates may be waiting to see what Schweitzer decides before making their own decisions.

Schweitzer joked to The Hill that he should switch his cellphone’s ringback tone from the country song “People are Crazy” to save himself time dealing with reporters.

“You’ve heard my ring tone — ‘God is great, beer is good,’ ” he said before grasping for a pop-culture reference. 

“I was thinking of changing mine to ‘Maybe, Baby.’ You know, that song from that Canadian girl. Nothing’s changed in Montana.”

Schweitzer seemed to be referring to Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit “Call Me Maybe.”

The former governor said he had recently made a trip to Washington to discuss the race with some national groups. 

Schweitzer said “a lot of people” were pushing him to jump in.

“I haven’t told anyone I’m running for sure,” he said. “Those decisions will be made in the future.”

Schweitzer’s uncertainty is rippling over the potential GOP field, where no new candidates have announced a bid since Baucus announced his retirement.

Republicans in Montana and D.C. say that Rep. Steve Daines (Mont.) is the Republican giving the race the most consideration and that he’s firmly undecided, keeping an eye on what Schweitzer does.

“The congressman is first and foremost focused on serving the people of Montana,” Daines spokeswoman Alee Lockman said.

“This is an unexpected opportunity we’re taking time to seriously and carefully consider.”

Former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot (R) hasn’t closed the door on the race, either, though he’s avoided any public comment on the race. 

Racicot and Daines have a good relationship going back years. 

Strategists believe the former governor is unlikely to consider running unless Daines forgoes a bid and the GOP needs a top-tier candidate to challenge Schweitzer.

Daines would have to give up a safe House seat to run for the Senate, and Republican strategists admitted Schweitzer’s decision could influence his thinking. 

“There’s no question that what Gov. Schweitzer chooses to do is a factor. But it certainly isn’t the only factor,” said Bowen Greenwood, executive director of the Montana Republican Party.

According to an April survey by the GOP firm Harper Polling, Schweitzer leads Racicot by 47 percent to 43 percent. That lead stretches to 50 percent to 40 percent against Daines. 

Former state Sen. Corey Stapleton (R), one of the two candidates already in the race, trailed Schweitzer by 25 points. 

Montana Superintendent of Public Information Denise Juneau (D), another potential candidate, trailed all three of the Republicans in the survey.

Republicans argue that Daines or Racicot could beat Schweitzer and say there are lots of stones unturned in terms of opposition research. 

“If Schweitzer runs, it certainly would be a push away from running for Steve Daines. I don’t know if it’s enough to push him out, but it certainly would be a factor,” said one Montana GOP strategist. 

“We need to know what Steve’s going to do. If he says no, Racicot is the Hail Mary pass. If he says no too, we’re not sure what we’d do from there.”

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterGOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration Border talks stall as another shutdown looms Mulvaney: Government shutdown on the table MORE (D-Mont.) said last week that he’d “bet the farm” Schweitzer jumps into the race.  

But the timing is a big question. Schweitzer’s recent takeover as chairman of the board of Montana’s largest publicly held company, the Stillwater Mine, could keep him busy in the near future.

“I would bet a paycheck on him running. I wouldn’t bet on when,” said one Montana-based Democratic strategist. 

“He’s making all the calls he needs to make, meeting with the key people he needs to meet with. ... Frankly, I think he just loves buzz, and as long as he’s not announcing, there’s that buzz. But he also has to start raising money at some point.”

Schweitzer has also expressed resistance to running for the Senate, joking last year that he’s “not senile enough” to be a senator.

“The mine’s been taking some time. Fishing, frankly, has been taking a fair bit of time,” he told The Hill. “It’s not nine-to-five, but it takes a lot of strategic input at this point.”

Schweitzer pushed back against a weekend story in The Missoulian that said he was likely to make a decision soon. 

“I’m a soil scientist. We’re trained in how the Earth was formed,” he said. 

“The most important thing a soil scientist has an understanding of is time — glacial time ... I look at a mountain and I’m able to visualize how that mountain was created over 6 million years. You’re a journalist. You read time as next week, tomorrow. I think of time geologically. When you see me say ‘soon’ you may be thinking days — but I think of time in millions of years sometimes.”