He has been in Congress one month and already U.S. Rep Steve Daines, R-Mont., is being asked about challenging U.S. Sen. Max Baucus in 2014, a question for which he hasn’t a pat answer.
Daines, meeting with the Billings Gazette editorial board Thursday, initially said he wouldn’t discuss a 2014 Senate challenge, and then he offered a measured response.
“I’m glad I’m doing what I’m doing right now, and I’ll just truly take the next step on what makes sense, but I’m not. I don’t spend time in my truck thinking about the 2014 Senate race. An honest fact, I don’t,” Daines said. “I realize it’s out there. People ask about it, but I’m very content with what I’m doing.”
Political observers began speculating about a Daines challenge to Baucus within weeks of the new congressman’s November defeat of Billings Democrat Kim Gillan. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics identified Baucus’ seat as one Republicans might target and posited that Daines could be the candidate. The center also said it wouldn’t be shocked if former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer challenged Baucus in the 2014 primary, although Schweitzer has repeatedly said the Senate doesn’t interest him the way it did when he unsuccessfully challenged former Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in 2000.
Baucus last year announced his intention to seek re-election in 2014.
Burns in 2006 lost his seat to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, who fought off former Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg’s attempted Senate jump last year.
Rehberg had a 12-year lock on Montana’s sole U.S. House seat, which Republicans have now held for 16 years.
Daines said he sees a cautionary tale in North Dakota, where former Republican Rep. Rick Berg attempted to jump to the Senate last year after winning that state’s lone House seat in 2010. Berg unseated Democratic incumbent Rep. Earl Pomeroy in 2010 but lost by 2,994 votes to Heidi Heitkamp. Daines’ communications director, Alee Lockman, worked for Berg.
Last week was Daines’ first statewide tour since taking office. He addressed the Montana Legislature on Jan. 25, then spent time in cities from Missoula to Billings. The Republican is opening offices in Helena, Missoula and Billings and will have a presence in Great Falls as well.
Offices are few and far between for House members, who can have a limited number of full-time staffers and part-time staffers. By comparison, U.S. senators aren’t as limited. Daines said his Billings office would be located in Granite Tower, where the offices for Baucus and Tester are. Rehberg’s office was on Grand Avenue.