HELENA — Corey Stapleton, a former state lawmaker and GOP gubernatorial candidate from Billings, on Wednesday became the first Republican to officially get into the U.S. Senate race against Democratic incumbent Max Baucus.
Stapleton, 45, announced his campaign early Wednesday on social-media sites and had a website up with a short video ad announcing his candidacy.
“I know it’s going to take leadership and integrity for us to fix Washington,” he said in the advertisement, which shows him standing at the edge of a snow-covered field. “I want to make life better for Montanans — for all of us, our kids, our grandkids. And that’s why I’m running for the United States Senate.”
Stapleton is bidding to challenge Baucus, 71, who’s up for re-election in 2014 to a seventh consecutive term as U.S. senator. Baucus hasn’t officially announced his re-election bid but has made it clear he’s running and already is raising money.
In his campaign finance report filed last week for the fourth quarter of 2012, Baucus reported raising $610,000 and had $3.6 million in his campaign account as of Dec. 31.
A Republican state representative from Missoula, Champ Edmunds, also has said he’s exploring whether to get into the race against Baucus.
Stapleton, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and a former naval officer, grew up in Great Falls and works as an investment adviser in Billings. He and his wife, Terry, have four children.
He served as a state senator from Billings from 2001 to 2008 and was Senate minority leader at the 2007 Legislature.
Stapleton ran for governor last year but finished second in the seven-way Republican primary to Rick Hill, who went on to lose the general election to Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock.
In an interview Wednesday, Stapleton said he plans to immerse himself in the issues and take a 56-county “listening tour” of Montana to talk to voters in the coming months.
“I think that we can win this race, but I know it’s going to take a lot of work,” he said. “We need the time to raise the money, we need the time to listen, and to get into 2014 in good order.”
In his advertisement, Stapleton said he looks at “our politicians in Washington, D.C., and just shake my head,” noting that they’ve racked up $16 trillion in debt.
“Our government in Washington, D.C., is making things worse, not better,” he said.
“I need your help, because this campaign isn’t about me. It’s about us. It’s about Montana.”
When asked about his solutions to the federal debt and budget-related issues, Stapleton said there are “no easy answers,” but that he feels President Barack Obama used to Great Recession to expand government programs and powers to help the country emerge from economic problems, and has made those programs permanent, rather than temporary.
“It really puts us in a difficult situation,” he said. “I think we need to have honest and grown-up conversations about entitlement spending, and these behind-the-scenes tax deals given to … companies that have no business in Montana. They are given incentives to ship American jobs overseas.”
Stapleton said he started thinking about entering the race for Baucus’ seat late last year.
Baucus chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee and has been a key congressional figure during Obama’s first term, helping shepherd the 2010 health-care reform bill through the Senate.
Baucus also helped push through a transportation bill that will bring $400 million a year to Montana and worked on reauthorizing the Farm Bill.
This year, Baucus has focused on a bill to help military veterans find jobs.
Baucus has seldom faced a tough re-election battle, and spent more than $11 million on his 2008 as he defeated Republican Bob Kelleher with 73 percent of the vote.