HELENA — Former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger announced Tuesday night that he’s running for Montana’s open U.S. Senate seat next year, becoming the third Democrat to get in the race.
Bohlinger, 77, made the announcement at a Lewis and Clark County Democratic Central Committee dinner in Helena, according to people attending the event. Bohlinger could not be reached for further comment late Tuesday evening.
Bohlinger joins current Lt. Gov. John Walsh and Wilsall rancher Dirk Adams as Democrats in the race to succeed U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who is retiring next year.
His announcement also comes on the eve of the expected announcement of Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines that he will be running for the Baucus seat as well.
Daines, Montana’s only representative in the U.S. House, has scheduled an event at noon Wednesday in his hometown of Bozeman, to reveal his campaign plans for next year.
Another Republican, political unknown David Leaser of Kalispell, also has said he intends to run for the open U.S. Senate seat.
The race for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat is expected to be one of the high-profile contests in the nation in 2014, as Republicans attempt to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats, who currently have a 55-45 majority.
Many national political forecasters, expecting Daines to get into the race, already have rated the race as leaning Republican — a potential pickup for the GOP.
Daines has been a U.S. representative for less than a year, winning election to his current post last November.
Bohlinger, a former Republican state representative from Billings, ran twice on the Democratic ticket with gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, in 2004 and 2008. The duo twice won election, with Bohlinger serving as lieutenant governor under Schweitzer from 2005-2012.
Bohlinger has said for several months he was considering entering the U.S. Senate race as a Democrat, and that he felt he would be the best candidate to defeat Daines, the likely Republican nominee.
“I believe it’s important not only for Montana but for our country that we maintain a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate,” he told the Gazette State Bureau earlier this fall. “Because of my statewide name recognition, I think I can win in November (2014). … We need to nominate someone who can win in November.”
People attending the Helena Democratic dinner Tuesday said Bohlinger said he felt he was the best candidate to represent Montana in the U.S. Senate contest.
Bohlinger said this fall that when he announces his candidacy, he will have “a team put together, we will be well-organized and the people of Montana will know my presence.”
Those attending Tuesday night’s dinner also said Bohlinger had an added bonus after he announced: He won the event’s 50-50 pot, worth $40.50.