Thursday, July 5, 2007

Rehberg ends all doubts -- no Senate run

Congressman Denny Rehberg today announced that he would neither be running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Max Baucus nor challenging Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the latter's re-election bid.

He states that "speculation to the contrary only serves as a distraction from the strong candidates that Montana Republicans will field for each of these important races."

Rehberg is the only candidate with certain potential for giving a serious challenge in either race. Neither Baucus nor Schweitzer are unbeatable given the right candidate or circumstances. For instance, Rehberg was found to be in a statistical tie with Baucus in a hypothetical matchup last December.

Rehberg could defeat Baucus, no doubt about it, but were he to lose, the risks to his career and to the state party at this point in time are just too high. Rehberg is making the right decision, even though it is painful to contemplate that we may be allowing Baucus yet another bye.

With perfect hindsight, the state (and national) party should have insisted that Conrad Burns step aside, allowing Rehberg to run against Tester -- a race he would almost certainly have won. Rehberg was poised to run for that Senate seat in 2006, having delayed until practically the last minute to file for re-election to his Congressional seat -- hoping, one presumes, that Conrad would step aside and give him the nod.

But Burns was convinced he could win -- and frankly many of us thought he could as well. And of course, he almost did -- not that that counts for much of anything.

With Burns as the titular head of the Montana GOP it would have been difficult to get him to step aside, but the Montana GOP needs exactly the sort of robust leadership that can speak plainly to candidates who need to step aside.

With the election last month as state GOP chairman of Erik Iverson, who took over the Burns campaign in the closing weeks and almost pulled off a win against all odds, we hope that he will be able to coordinate that kind of robust leadership.

While the emphasis in the 2008 elections has to be on winning back the state Senate and on expanding the GOP's razor-thin edge in the House, Iverson's leadership will be tested by how he works behind the scenes to recruit and promote good candidates to challenge Baucus and Schweitzer -- candidates who, even if they lose, will make the Democrats work hard for those wins , and who will gain state-wide name recognition that will allow them to turn around and run again.

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