HELENA — Former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg said Thursday he isn't ruling out a run for the Senate seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.
The Republican is coming off a bruising loss last year to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. The two engaged in a heavyweight battle that saw record spending and an unprecedented flood of television advertising.
But an open Senate seat could entice Rehberg to run again in 2014.
Baucus announced earlier this week that he is retiring after his sixth term, setting off intense speculation over who would run to replace him. It will be the first race for an open Senate seat in Montana since the 1970s, potentially giving hopefuls a better chance of winning.
Rehberg, in a statement emailed to The Associated Press, thanked Baucus for his many years of service.
"As to what the future holds, ever since Max announced his retirement two days ago my phone has been ringing off the hook. The encouragement I've been getting from Montanans to take a serious look at this race has been overwhelming," Rehberg said. "I owe it to them, and to all the folks who I've served over the years, to keep listening and see how things develop. I'm not ruling anything out at this point."
Rehberg took a job earlier this year as a co-chairman of the Washington-based public-strategy firm Mercury/Clark & Weinstock.
Others considering a run include freshman U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, a Republican who replaced Rehberg in Congress, and former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Both have indicated potential interest.
Some Republicans are also advocating former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, who served from 1993 to 2001 and later chaired the Republican National Committee.
On the Democratic side, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau has said she would consider a run if Schweitzer doesn't do it. Another potential contender is Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily's List, an advocacy group that backs female candidates who support abortion rights.
Two lesser-known Republicans already have announced their intentions to run, state Sen. Champ Edmunds of Missoula and former state Sen. Corey Stapleton, who lost in the GOP primary for governor last year.
Baucus announced his retirement after he had already raised nearly $5 million, money he can use to help other candidates or political causes.
The 71-year-old senator said he wants to leave the Senate while he still has time to enjoy life outside of Congress.