Montana Senate: Baucus Retirement Improves GOP Opportunity

April 23, 2013 · 11:25 AM EDT

Sen. Max Baucus (D) will not seek re-election in 2014, according to The Washington Post’s Paul Kane.

Baucus coasted to re-election in 2008 (73 percent) and discarded Republican Mike Taylor (63 percent) in 2002 with a memorable television ad. The senator’s last competitive race was in 1996, when he defeated Republican Dennis Rehberg 49.6 percent to 44.7 percent.

Baucus has been facing the prospect of a competitive race in 2014, even though a top Republican candidate has not emerged. But he received considerable criticism within his own party after his vote against the Manchin-Toomey amendment to expand background checks.

Even though Republican nominees have carried the state in each of the last five presidential contests, a Republican has not won a Montana Senate race since 2000, when Sen. Conrad Burns defeated Brian Schweitzer (D). Burns lost to Democrat Jon Tester in 2006.

Naturally, Schweitzer, who served two terms as governor, will be mentioned as a potential candidate. But he has been very outspoken about his distaste for Washington and seems more likely to run for president in 2016. Two years in the Senate might hurt his outsider image.

Former Rep. Rehberg, who served as the state’s lone U.S. representative for more than a decade, will likely get mentioned. He lost the 2012 Senate race to Tester, 48.5 percent to 44.9 percent. Libertarian Dan Cox received a considerable 6.5 percent.

President Barack Obama lost the state by 13 points in 2012 after holding John McCain under 50 percent four years earlier. That race was 49.5 percent to 47.3 percent.

Baucus becomes the sixth Democratic senator not to seek re-election (including New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg, Iowa’s Tom Harkin, and Michigan’s Carl Levin), and the third in a state Mitt Romney won in the 2012 election (Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia, and Tim Johnson, South Dakota, are the other two). Two Republican senators (Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss and Nebraska’s Mike Johanns) have said they will not seek re-election. Click here for Roll Call's Casualty List.

Even though we don’t know who is running or whether the parties will have competitive primaries, the fundamentals of the state demand that the first rating of the open seat be Pure Toss-Up.