Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 14, 2016

Schweitzer Not Helping Senate Democrats With Montana Primary


Schweitzer is in the middle of a new Senate primary in Montana. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Former Montana Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger’s decision to seek the Democratic Senate nomination invited a primary the party didn’t want to have — and pushed a former player in that race back into the picture: former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Schweitzer, who turned down the chance to run for the open seat, spoke with his former lieutenant before Bohlinger’s announcement last week. But Montana Democratic sources said he declined pleas from state party leaders to dissuade Bohlinger from running, with Lt. Gov. John Walsh already in the race.

In a phone interview with CQ Roll Call on Tuesday, Schweitzer said only that he had “conversations” with Bohlinger about “the good, the bad and the ugly” about the Senate and Washington, D.C. He thinks both Democrats would make “very good senators” and could defeat likely GOP nominee Rep. Steve Daines, but deciding the nominee is up to Montana voters.

In his trademark brashness, Schweitzer also claimed some credit for the fight.

“In fact, I guess I’m responsible since I plucked both of them from obscurity,” Schweitzer said. “To ask me to pick favorites is like asking a father to pick his favorite son.”

Sen. Jon Tester and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, have endorsed Walsh as their candidate for the seat of retiring Sen. Max Baucus. Meanwhile, Tester and Baucus are headlining a fundraiser for Walsh on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Bohlinger’s decision to run isn’t particularly concerning for party leaders, sources said, but the preference is always to avoid a primary fight that could distract from the general election. The DSCC does not have to contend with the party divisions that have made navigating the primary process far more complicated for Republicans.

However, national Democrats wanted Bohlinger out badly enough that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., personally called him and requested that he exit the race, Bohlinger said in a local TV interview.

Schweitzer selected Bohlinger, a former Republican state legislator, to run with him in 2004 and tapped Walsh as the state’s adjutant general in 2008. Schweitzer’s decision not to intervene in the process provided further evidence for some state party leaders that Schweitzer is not a “team player.”

“While Schweitzer’s refusal to help the party is no doubt ruffling some feathers,” one Democratic operative in the state said, “at the end of the day, everyone knows John Walsh is the strongest chance to hold this seat for Democrats, and there’s no real question that he will be the candidate.”

Still, the seat presents a top pickup opportunity for Republicans, who must net six seats to win the Senate majority next year, and Bohlinger, 77, has already started making waves. He compared “tea party representatives” who pushed for a government shutdown to the Taliban and criticized Tester and national Democrats for backing Walsh, 53, according to the Billings Gazette.

Despite a fundraising disadvantage, Schweitzer believes Bohlinger has a shot at the nomination.

“If you were to poll it right now you would find that John Bohlinger has very high name recognition and favorables among Democrats and independents,” Schweitzer said. “John Walsh doesn’t have nearly as high name recognition. That comes with time.”

  • PasoFinoCA

    Montana politics are as dirty as a corral can get …and populated by pretty dumb Democrats who the people keep electing. Trainwreck Baucus who helped write the “Affordable Care Act” rarely comes to Montana and claims his mothers home (the basement) as an address, Tester is as dense a hick as one can find and he roams the Senate halls in a brown too small suit and daze – but his boots get polished….as for “Governor” S….he is , ….never mind.

  • mattlisa

    Who in their right mind would elect a 77 year old as a rookie senator. Seems like Bohlinger need to be riding into the sunset.

  • Mygoodness

    Nice to see the democrats going after one another for a change

  • TaterSalad

    Senators Mary Landrieu’s “Louisiana Re-Purchase Bill” and what Senator Harry Reid is now saying: ………as ole’ Harry says : Why would I want to do that?



    3). Guess who wrote the insurance exclusions in the Obamacare mandate?

  • kenpuck

    Watching Dems slice each other to ribbons. Beyond delicious.

  • screendummie

    Let him go. Let him run in the primary. Don’t question it.

  • DocinPA

    Oh, I think the Democrats are about to have a whole bunch of unity problems.

  • ScottinVA

    And the “media” cling to the narrative the GOP has problems. By November 2014, the dems will be clawing each others’ eyes out.

    Nice job, dems. More rope?

  • jrconner

    Bohlinger is 77 years old. Furthermore, he has a checkered record on labor and choice. Whether his candidacy is a last hurrah for an old warhorse who can’t stand the quiet of the pasture, or political mischief being committed on behalf of Schweitzer, is anyone’s guess. But one thing is certain: he won’t be the Democratic nominee.

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