The Senate 2014- State of the Races, Part 2

Today’s entry focuses on the four races in the mountain states out west- Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. In these races, there are two Republican and two Democratic incumbents with one Democrat- Max Baucus in Montana- announcing his retirement at the end of this term.

First, the fairly easy races. In Idaho, Republican Jim Risch will easily be reelected. There is a dirth of information on this race because Democrats in Idaho are in the decided minority with little clout outside perhaps only Boise. There simply is no viable Democratic candidate remotely possible.

In Wyoming, Mike Enzi (Republican) is up for reelection and he has shown no intentions of retiring. Perhaps the only thing that would lead him in that direction (he wll be 70 in 2014) is if it somehow appears hopeless that the GOP will win back the Senate. Enzi, if the Republicans win the Senate, would be next in line to chair the powerful Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. There is no doubting that he covets that position and he has made no secret of it. There was some recent speculation that Elizabeth Cheney might be positioning herself for a statewide office run. She was traveling the state recently. This led Enzi to declare that “Cheney can run for whatever she wants.” It is highly doubtful that Cheney would openly challenge Enzi in a primary so she may just be positioning herself for the outside possibility of an Enzi retirement. In fact, both Politico and Roll Call have spoken about the possibility of an Enzi retirement with Politico putting him on their retirement watch list. Even still, Cheney would possibly have to contend with primary challenges from current At-large Representative Cynthia Lummis or popular Governor Matt Mead. But, all this is speculation at this point as, quite frankly, this writer believes Enzi can smell that chairmanship and will not retire.

In Colorado, Mark Udall- the Democratic incumbent- is up for reelection. Republican operatives in Colorado insist they have the ground organization and resources to take down Udall with the right candidate. The main problem right now is they cannot find that candidate. Thus far, several names have dropped out of consideration. The first is Ken Buck who narrowly won the 2010 nomination and lost the general election. Representative Mike Coffman, who won statewide office previously as Secretary of State, also removed his name. Perhaps the biggest loss so far is Cory Gardner, a US Representative whom even Democrats begrudgingly fear given his political skills and acumen. However, Gardner is rising in the ranks of the House GOP leadership which was probably the top reason for his decision to stay put in the House.

But, there are still names out there who could possibly mount a decent challenge to Udall. The first is former representative and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez. Another, but unlikely choice, is Representative Doug Lamborn who may be just a tad too conservative for a changing state like Colorado. He additionally carries some baggage that Udall would capitalize on- his “tar baby” comment, his refusal to attend the 2012 State of the Union address, and his inadvertent and innocent release of classified national security information in a speech on the House floor. Then there is former Governor Bill Owens who had a lot of success as Governor cutting taxes, improving educational accountability, and improving transportation in his first term. Although his second term was lackluster, he left office a fairly popular figure. State senator Owen Hill and state treasurer Walker Stapleton have also been mentioned, but they are dark horses at best and would not likely be on anyone’s top 3 list. The final possibility is former Lt. Governor Jane Norton. She was the establishment choice against the Tea Party favorite Ken Buck in 2010 and narrowly lost the primary after making the decision not to attend the party convention to get her name on the ballot. A developing GOP senatorial power broker- Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire- has been talking her up of late and chaired a recent fundraiser to retire her 2010 campaign debt. Personally, this may be Norton’s year, but Owens would likely be a better challenger against Udall. It will take an effort since Udall comes off as many describe as a “real Colorado guy.”

The final race is the most interesting and presents an opportunity to pick up a seat held by a Democrat in a fairly reliable red state- Montana. Freed of the constraints of running again, Baucus can turn to a pet project of his- tax reform. Additionally, his recent comments about Obamacare likely did not endear him to the administration and the Democratic powers that be.

Some Democratic possible candidates- no one has declared yet- are quite interesting. One is former NARAL Chair Nancy Keenan who has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning in Montana. Another is Stephanie Schriok, president of EMILY’s List, an organization that recruits, endorses and supports female candidates. Mike McGrath, the Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court has also been mentioned. These names, however, seem to be long shots or political one trick ponies. That leaves three other names- Denise Juneau, the Montana Superintendant of Public Instruction and secretary of state Monica Lindeen.

However, the entire speculation is over should former very popular Governor Brian Schweitzer enter the race. Originally, he stated he was too old for the House and too sane for the Senate. That was before the Baucus retirement announcement. Lately, he has sounded as if he is seriously considering a run. If so, it would very likely clear the Democratic playing field. His previous announcement about no interest in the Senate was before Baucus announced his retirement as he likely did not want to place himself in a possibly cotentious primary.

On the Republican side, there are two declared candidates- state representative Champ Edmunds and state senator Corey Stapleton who lost the 2012 Republican gubernatorial primary.

However, the field can widen as some potential candidates still exist. One is US Representative Steve Daines who has been silent on the issue not giving his hand away. Tim Fox, the state attorney general, has been mentioned in some circles as a rising star, but his star may not be 2014 and, regardless, he has expressed little interest without outright declaring he is out. A somewhat controversial candidate would be former Governor Marc Racicot. While Governor, he did manage to turn a $200 million budget deficit into a $20.4 million surplus. He is also a former chairman of the RNC and was Bush’s reelection chairman in 2003-2004. However, after leaving public service, he has been a lobbyist mainly for the health care industry. That could be an advantage, especially if Obamacare dominates the debate, or his stature as a lobbyist can be a hindrance. Remember that Montana has some of the most restrictive campaign laws in the country in which the people take pride and labeling Racicot was a DC lobbyist could hurt his chances. The final potential candidate is former representative and senatorial candidate in 1996 and 2012- Denny Rehberg- both which he obviously lost. Would a third run be the charm? Rehberg could have and should have beaten a vulnerable Jon Tester in 2012 and his chances may be enhanced in an open race. But, he recently accepted a job with a DC public relations firm, which may help steer him away from another run.

In the final analysis, in this writer’s opinion, the game is over should Schweitzer enter the race. If so, then this seat remains in Democratic hands. If not, then most of the remaining Democrats would be relatively easy to defeat provided the GOP does not shoot itself in the proverbial foot.

Next: The Middle Atlantic races- Delaware, New Jersey, and West Virginia.