Schweitzer’s candidacy was assumed in the political world following the surprise retirement announcement of Sen. Max Baucus (D) in the spring. The popular ex-governor remains voraciously ambitious in the political arena, and the Senate seemed like a decent stop on the way to what many people in and out of the state thought might be a run for president in 2016.
The field was effectively frozen as Schweitzer made up his mind. With him not running, look for Rep. Steve Daines (R) to come under heavy pressure to make the race. And while Democrats talk about state schools superintendent Denise Juneau and state auditor Monica Lindeen, neither woman has the proven electoral record (or even close to it) of Schweitzer.
It’s worth noting that Democrats have demonstrated their ability to win in Montana — even with a national wind blowing in their collective face. Sen. Jon Tester won a second term in November despite the fact that President Obama won just 42 percent of the vote in the state. But that was a race featuring a Democratic incumbent. Montana in 2014 will be an open seat.
Nationally, Montana becomes the third problematic open seat for the party. In West Virginia, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) is a clear favorite, as Democrats have yet to persuade a serious candidate to run. In South Dakota, the two leading potential Democratic candidates took a pass while popular former governor Mike Rounds dodged a serious Republican primary challenge.
If you give Republicans those three open seats — they are favored at the moment, but the election remains 16 months away — they then need three more for the majority. Those pickups would almost certainly come from four seats, all of which are held by Democratic incumbents running for reelection — in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.
In other words, the GOP now has a clear shot at seven red state Democratic seats, and would take back Congress with six. Alaska would be a problem should Sarah Palin decide to run (and lose) to Mark Begich, but that still leaves six very likely pickups. I wasn't terribly worried a few months ago about the Dems holding in 2014.
I am worried now. Sen. Kay Hagen may be the key here in NC, given the massive GOP takeover in the state. I'm hoping she can rally a backlash against the Republicans there, but it's going to be very, very close.
Time to get to work on 2014, folks.
[UPDATE] That goes doubly true after Schweitzer bowing out finds Nate Silver putting the odds of the Dems keeping the Senate at best as a coin-toss.