Friday, July 19, 2013

Tester, Baucus dismiss claims they sunk Schweitzer’s Senate bid

Tester at Blackstone

U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus denied accusations levied by sources close to former Gov. Brian Schweitzer that Montana’s two Democratic senators were responsible for Schweitzer’s surprise decision to not seek a U.S. Senate seat in 2014.

Speaking to reporters Friday at the state Capitol following the announcement of a $2 million Blackstone LaunchPad grant for the University of Montana and Montana State University, Tester said the anonymous claims he or his political team “stuck knives” in the former governor’s U.S. Senate bid are “baloney.”

“We did nothing to inhibit him from running,” Tester said.

Schweitzer was considered by many political observers to be the Democrats’ best chance of retaining Baucus’ seat in 2014. Democrats have controlled that seat for a century, and polls showed the popular Schweitzer was the most competitive contender in a field that has not yet come into focus. Despite his oft-repeated rhetoric about the ills and aromas emanating from Washington, D.C. and Capitol Hill, most political insiders believed Schweitzer was in fact preparing to run for the Senate.

A recent article in the Australian online publication Business Insider cited several anonymous sources involved with Schweitzer’s supposed planned bid to replace the retiring Baucus. The article made waves on social media Thursday on anonymous claims that Schweitzer was going to announce his campaign on July 15, but that “bad blood” between he and Montana’s two sitting senators led him to bow out of the race.

Tester said he has “no idea” why anonymous sources close to Schweitzer would accuse the junior senator of “torpedoing” his campaign.

“I don’t have time for this stuff, even if I wanted to, which I don’t,” Tester said. “Brian Schweitzer was our best chance of winning this race. He could have probably done everything without me. He didn’t need me. The truth of the matter is that’s a fact. It’s going to be a lot more work for me now.”

Tester may have taken a slight jab at Schweitzer on the podium earlier in the day when he introduced current Gov. Steve Bullock, calling him a “breath of fresh air.” But Tester insisted reports that he had any animosity toward Schweitzer or did anything to upend his possible Senate bid are false.

“You know Brian Schweitzer. You know me. Does that shoe fit?” Tester said. “That I would actually try to go after him just doesn’t fit. I mean it’s not who I am. I’m not that kind of a person.”

Baucus, who was also present for the launch of the Blackstone grant, said he “wasn’t terribly surprised”  Schweitzer chose not to run for the Senate.

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“I’ve never met anybody...who wants to decide for himself more than Brian Schweitzer,” Baucus said. “Brian is a very smart guy and a very good governor. I have not talked to Brian since that decision, but he obviously has his own reasons. But it was up to Brian, whatever those reasons are.”

Schweitzer, who recently took over as chairman of Stillwater Mining Co. board of directors, told reporters that he doesn’t want to leave Montana for Washington, D.C. Schweitzer hasn’t personally commented on the rumors that Tester or Baucus had anything to do with his decision to not enter the Senate race, but multiple stories quoting anonymous sources from all three camps have painted a picture of “bad blood” between the former Democratic governor and the state’s two Democratic senators.

Baucus waved off any implication that he or his staff were not supportive of Schweitzer’s bid to replace him.

“I think Brian was kind of conflicted whether he wanted this job in the first place,” Baucus said.

Schweitzer did not answer a call seeking comment.

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