Senate race drawing interest; Schweitzer rules himself out

2014-08-07T19:07:00Z 2014-08-15T16:44:08Z Senate race drawing interest; Schweitzer rules himself outBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — A number of Democrats expressed interest in seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate to replace Sen. John Walsh, who ended his campaign Thursday.

And a number of prominent Democrats ruled themselves out, including Gov. Steve Bullock, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau and state Auditor Monica Lindeen.

The Montana Democratic Party will call a state central committee nominating convention in the coming days to select a candidate to replace Walsh on the ballot and face off against Republican Rep. Steve Daines and Libertarian Roger Roots in the general election.

The two Democrats who lost to Walsh in the June primary, rancher Dirk Adams of Wilsall and former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger of Helena, said they’re interested in the nomination, although Bohlinger said he’s not actively seeking the appointment.  

“If the Democratic Party delegates think I’m the best qualified, I would say yes, with the proviso that they do two things: provide a sufficient amount of money to run a credible campaign and provide a large workforce of volunteers around the state who will go door-to-door to deliver campaign material and to put up signs,” Bohlinger said. 

Adams simply said he was interested in seeking the nomination.

Three state legislators — Rep. Amada Curtis of Butte, Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Missoula and Rep. Franke Wilmer — expressed interest in seeking the nomination. 

“Who would not want to run against Steve Daines?” asked Curtis, a teacher and first-term lawmaker. “He’s taken so many terrible votes. Daines is so wrong for Montana on so many issues, I’d be crazy not to run against Steve Daines.”

Wilmer said she probably will run, but was waiting to see what former state school Superintendent Nancy Keenan decided. Keenan told the Gazette State Bureau earlier in the week she wasn’t interested in seeking the Senate nomination, but couldn’t be reached Thursday.

“I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a woman candidate,” said Wilmer, a college professor who completed her fourth term in the House. 

She cited a recent poll that showed Daines had the support of only 47 percent of the Montana voters. 

“He has the money, the incumbency and he can’t get over 47 percent,” Wilmer said. “Clearly, there’s room for someone to appeal to the people and be what he’s not.”

Wanzenried said he’s had calls encouraging him to go for the Senate nomination and is interested in being considered.

He cited his nine terms in the Legislature, his service in the executive branch of state government, including as chief of staff to Gov. Ted Schwinden, and his more than 25 years in the transportation from driving trucks, delivering freight to being a transportation broker.

“It gives me a blend of background that’s truly unique,” he said.

Later Thursday, Anna Whiting Sorrell, of Evaro, former director of the state Department of Health and Human Services and former state director of the Indian Health Services, said Indian people have been the margin of victory in many Montana races, and “we need to be a voice and a force and should be considered for these positions.”

Asked if she is interested in seeking the nomination, Sorrell said, “If it means that’s the way the Indian voice is heard, yes."

Former state Sen. Carol Williams of Missoula, who was mentioned by some as a possible U.S. Senate candidate, said she’s not interested in running.

“I think the Democrats are going to have a really good candidate through this process,” Williams said.

A number people on social media were pushing for Schweitzer to enter the race. He was set to seek the Senate seat last summer and was gearing up to run, but decided at the last minute not to.

In a post to his Facebook page, Schweitzer said he and his wife, Nancy, love living on Georgetown Lake.  

“Although I’m flattered to be on some of the lists of potential U.S. Senate candidates, I respectfully decline to seek the nomination,” the former two-term governor wrote. “I enjoyed being in public service as Governor of Montana. I believe in citizen government — where citizens step up to serve then step aside for others to do the same.”

As for Juneau, her spokeswoman Allyson Hagen said, “She’s not interested in running.” Juneau briefly considered running for the Senate last summer but then decided against it.

Lindeen’s spokeswoman, Jennifer McKee, said, “Commissioner Lindeen made up her mind last summer (not to run for the Senate). She’s happy doing the work she was elected to do.”

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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