When Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) announced last April that he would not seek re-election in 2014, it was assumed that freshman at-large Rep. Steve Daines (R) would enter the race to replace the outgoing incumbent and become the strong favorite.
The Democrats’ plan, however, to neutralize the Republican advantage in Montana is a good one. Instead of finishing his final senatorial term, President Obama appointed Baucus as US Ambassador to China, thus allowing Gov. Steve Bullock (D) to install his lieutenant governor, John Walsh, who was already running for the Senate, as the interim replacement. The move gives now-Sen. Walsh, at the very least, abbreviated incumbent stature and is clearly the best political play the Montana Democrats could make.
In federal office since Feb. 7, the new senator has had some time to begin to decrease Daines’ double-digit polling leads. Rasmussen Reports (March 17-18; 750 registered Montana voters) just released the first public poll since Walsh officially took office, and we find that, so far, the new senator has yet to alter the state’s political calculations.
According to the RR results, Rep. Daines leads Sen. Walsh 51-37 percent among those tested Montana registered voters who consider themselves “likely” to participate in the November election.
In late January, before Walsh was appointed, Harper Polling (Jan. 20-22; 519 registered Montana voters) found Rep. Daines to be leading then-Lt. Gov. Walsh 43-29 percent. Last November, Public Policy Polling (Nov. 15-17; 952 registered Montana voters) tested the two candidates and found Daines leading 52-35 percent, a margin very similar to the one found in this week’s Rasmussen poll. Comparing these two studies, Walsh has only scored a net gain of three points since the reporting of the mid-November survey.
As the campaign begins and Sen. Walsh gets better ensconced in his new position, the race will likely close. Rep. Daines, however, still remains the clear favorite to convert the state to the Republican column and the Montana race continues to be one of the most important, from a GOP perspective, in the country. Winning this and the two other Democratic retirement states (that normally vote Republican) would cut the number of GOP conversion seats needed for majority control in half, from six to three.
New Hampshire Senate
Rasmussen Reports (March 12-13; 750 registered New Hampshire voters) also tested the New Hampshire Senate race now that former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) has formed an exploratory committee to test a run in the Granite State.
This time, the good news falls toward the Democrats as first-term Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), a former three-term governor, maintains a lead beyond the margin of polling error over Brown, which now stands at 50-41 percent. This poll is consistent with the last public survey released in the state, a Public Policy Polling study (Feb. 19-20; 686 registered New Hampshire voters) conducted for the League of Conversation Voters. According to PPP, Sen. Shaheen held a similar 47-39 percent advantage over the former Bay State law maker.
The New Hampshire candidate filing deadline is June 13 for the Sept. 9 primary election, so Brown still has weeks to finally decide whether or not he will challenge Sen. Shaheen.