Thursday, March 1, 2007

Max Baucus dogpile

You know, it's supposed to be the job of sites like ours to critique Sen. Max Baucus. While we realize that Baucus is hardly beloved on the Montana left for many reasons, not least of which was Baucus's vote for the Bush tax cuts, sometimes it really feels like the right's thunder is getting unfairly stolen.

After having watched Baucus woodenly make his way through an interview with the Helena IR editorial board this week, we are again astounded that Republicans have been losing to this guy for nearly 3 decades.

We realize that Democrats asked themselves the same thing about Conrad Burns for 18 years. And this is indeed a valid comparison, since Max Baucus is pretty much just Conrad Burns without the latter's keen mind and penetrating charisma.

But it really is something to watch the left go at Baucus. The latest stimulator that is drawing the big fish to the surface is a recent article in The Nation. As we have confessed before, we really don't read The Nation as often as we perhaps should, and thus we miss a lot of the good stuff.

Anyway, we learn that Left in the West and Baucus are "definitely from different parts of the 'big tent.'" And at one of our favorite sites, 4&20 Blackbirds, we learn of "a new split forming between grassroots populists and corporate-sponsored DC insiders that doesn’t necessarily follow party lines..." And furthermore we learn that populists on the left may not feel like spending their "weekends trolling the neighborhoods in the pouring rain, in (Baucus's) name..."

Perhaps the most interesting item was that Baucus hit up 50 K-Street lobbyists to raise $100,000 each for his re-election campaign. Think about it -- that would be $5 million before the "Friends of Max Baucus" even get started with the rubber-chicken circuit. Now, we already know that Denny Rehberg -- his most dangerous opponent -- isn't running (even though Gazette polling in December put him and Baucus in a statistical tie in a hypothetical match-up.)

So why the desperate need for that kind of money -- and, no less, through the kind of activity that Montana voters recently found distasteful enough to kick out a 3 term Republican in favor of a Jon Tester?

Perhaps Baucus is afraid of that state House majority leader who carries a union card and wears a hard-hat, after all. Or perhaps he realizes (as did many Republicans during the last election) that the Tester campaign wrote the campaign ads against him: he's been in Washington too long, he's lost touch with Montana, and he took money from Abramoff.

Or is Baucus perhaps less worried about any potential Republican challenger than he is about a challenge of a different kind? Might our state's most popular Democrat quietly get the party's already unhappy activists and populists to pressure Baucus to step down -- letting that populist bolo-wearing guy head to Washington in 2008 rather than having to wait until 2012 or beyond?

All interesting stuff -- Montana Headlines is increasingly convinced that Baucus, far from being one of the Democratic party's safest bets, is more vulnerable in 2008 than he has been in any previous election. On reflection, perhaps Baucus is smarter than he seems -- maybe he does need all that money.

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