President Barack Obama is set to nominate Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as the next U.S. ambassador to China, a move that could have implications for the 2014 midterm elections.
It’s not yet clear when Baucus will relinquish his seat in the Senate. But when he does, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) will appoint a replacement that will serve until the 2014 election.
A Democratic official said that Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh, already a Senate candidate, would likely be appointed to fill the seat.
There’s a simple reason why Walsh’s appointment would be helpful for Democrats — it would give them an incumbent to run in 2014 in a race that the Cook Political Report says “leans Republican.” It would immediately lead to a higher profile and higher name recognition throughout the state. Right now, according to Public Policy Polling, only 47% of Montanans have an opinion of Walsh, and he trails likely Republican candidate Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) by a 17-point margin.
There are still a few complications that could arise, however. Travis Kavulla, a Republican who is a member of the Montana Public Service Commission, thinks it will be a “double-edged sword” for Walsh if he is appointed. On one hand, he’ll have the higher profile and the machinery of a Senate office and staff, in addition to his campaign operation.
On the other, the move would “trap him in D.C.,” Kavulla said. And once he gets to the Senate, it will be important to watch how he navigates thorny issues that arise from being a Democratic senator in a red state. One example of this is when Baucus was one of four Democrats to vote against a bill expanding background checks on gun purchases earlier this year.
“Most Democrats sent to Washington often end up in awkward positions,” Kavulla said. “How will he navigate some of these questions?”
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