Pundits have run wild the past two weeks with predictions about who will vie for Sen. Max Baucus' seat when he retires next year. Only two Republicans, Corey Stapleton and Champ Edmunds, have officially declared candidacies so far. Democrats appear to be in a holding pattern until former Gov. Brian Schweitzer actually makes his intentions clear. The field is wide open.
But ask Baucus what he thinks of the names populating news stories and political blogs, and you won't get much more than a chuckle. In fact, he denies having much of a take on the 2014 field at all.
"It's very early," he told the Indy last week during a Missoula appearance plugging his Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. "I'm betting there are a lot of people in the woodwork who haven't come out yet, whose names haven't surfaced yet. This is only May. Not election year May, but the preceding May."
Baucus is coming off a tumultuous few weeks. Shortly after voting against expanding background checks on firearm purchasers, and weathering intense criticism from groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Baucus announced he's retiring at the close of his sixth term. He said that a 2014 campaign would have been rough, despite having already raised nearly $5 million.
"Campaigns are getting more and more expensive and more and more difficult," he said. However, the prospect of a race rivaling Sen. Jon Tester's 2012 re-election bid was "not a major factor."
"I want to double down on getting things passed—the North Fork bill, the Rocky Mountain Front bill—unconstrained with the demands and time of campaigning," Baucus said. "Deciding not to run again is very liberating. There's such a freedom."Ultimately, Baucus said his decision to retire hinged on whether he wanted to remain in Washington, D.C., for another six years. He reiterated a line he's used in recent weeks: "I want to come home."
As for his hesitancy to speculate on the running list of his potential replacements, Baucus quoted his longtime hero, former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. "He told me, 'When you serve, you serve on the Hill and you serve fully. When you leave, you leave. You leave totally. You don't second guess.' It's up to the people."