Thursday, February 28, 2008

The powerful Sen. Baucus

Jack over at Western Word has really been shining the light on our senior Senator. He has documented a couple of striking examples of Sen. Baucus taking credit for something -- only to have the claims of victory turn out not to be true.

He notes today that finally the Missoulian has caught up to Baucus's claims on "saving the Flathead" -- half of Montana got Baucus's exuberant e-mail that bragged about Baucus "crushing" Canadian energy development projects. The winning line from British Columbia Energy Minister Richard Neufeld really can't get repeated enough:

When asked last week about Mr. Baucus's characterization of the project, Mr. Neufeld said: "If Max Baucus says the sun is shining, the first thing you do is go out and have a look."

Smaller population states like Montana get a lot out of having just as much representation in the U.S. Senate as do states like New York and California. The Senate is a sort of equalizer for largely rural states like ours, and so votes for the Senate often don't track with other statewide voting patterns (consider our neighbor North Dakota, which has Democratic Senators-for-life but goes reliably Republican for President and in state government.)

The problem is that Senators like Baucus often become far more adept at convincing their constituents of their power and influence in Washington than they are at actually being powerful. Baucus is not alone in being perceived in his own state as being powerful in Washington, even while being rather more of an underachiever in the job itself. He probably has some Montanans convinced that business in Washington isn't allowed to start until Sen. Baucus walks into the Capitol building. That doesn't make it true.

Will Montanans figure this out in time for the November election? It will be hard, what with Baucus spending his untold millions in campaign dollars to flood the state with campaign staffers (one of these eager beavers was floating around Billings the other day -- nice young man from the East Coast -- apparently Baucus couldn't find anyone from Montana to take the job.)

But with episodes like Jack is documenting, we can see why Baucus understands that he is going to need to spend $13 million or whatever (we can't count that high) in order to run against an opponent who may not be able even to break into 7 figure fundraising.

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