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Without comment, former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer has posted a poll on his Facebook page that suggests he would beat Sen. Max Baucus in a 2014 Democratic primary.

The survey, from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, finds that Schweitzer would be a stronger candidate in both the Senate primary and a general election.

“This was a really odd thing to post,” one commenter says. “I’m all for Schweitzer, but for the social media team to post polling data showing the former governor leading primary polls against another Democrat is just strange.”

Another responds, “I agree, it is odd to post without any context, but I fully support Schweitzer in whatever he does!” - Washington Post, 2/20/13

Here's what PPP's latest Montana poll shows:
Max Baucus has a 45/48 approval rating, upside down numbers that reflect what we've found for him over most of the last couple years. Nevertheless Baucus would start out with pretty large leads over both Stapleton (45/38) and Edmunds (47/37) who have shown the greatest interest in the race to date.

Baucus would be in trouble if a stronger Republican candidate got into the contest though. He would trail by 5 point margins to both Congressman Steve Daines (49/44) and former Governor Marc Racicot (47/42). He would have a small lead over Attorney General Tim Fox (46/43).

The biggest threat to Baucus might actually be in a primary. Former Governor Brian Schweitzer would lead him 54/35 in a face off. Democratic voters like Baucus (76/18 approval) but he can't match up to Schweitzer's popularity with the party base (86/9 favorability). Schweitzer's up across the ideological spectrum of the party, leading by 34 with 'very liberal' voters, 17 with 'somewhat liberal' ones, and 15 with moderates.

Schweitzer would be a stronger general candidate than Baucus. He leads Stapleton by 10 at 49/39 and Edmunds by 15 at 52/37. It would still be competitive even with Schweitzer as the nominee if a top tier Republican ran though- he would lead Daines only 48/45 and start out just behind Racicot at 46/45. He leads Fox by 6 points in a hypothetical match up at 49/43. - PPP, 2/19/13

I have to admit too that Schweitzer posting that poll is pretty odd because Schweitzer's past statement indicated that he wasn't interested in challenging incumbent Senator Max Baucus (D. MT):
FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2011 file photo, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer delivers his 2011 State of the State Address in Helena, Mont. Defying federal authority over gray wolves, Gov. Schweitzer on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011encouraged ranchers to kill wolves that prey on their livestock _ even in areas where that is not currently allowed _ and said the state will start shooting packs that hurt elk herds.  Schweitzer told The Associated Press he no longer would wait for federal officials to resolve the tangle of lawsuits over wolves, which has kept the animals on the endangered species list for a decade since recovery goals were first met.  (AP Photo/The Independent Record, Dylan Brown)
Schweitzer stepped down as governor in January; term limits barred him from seeking reelection. When asked by the Associated Press if he would run for the U.S. House or challenge Baucus in the Senate, Schweitzer replied, ”I am not goofy enough to be in the House, and I’m not senile enough to be in the Senate.” - Washington Post, 2/20/13
Schweitzer was a very popular governor and left the position after two terms with a budget surplus:

In his final budget, Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Thursday proposed spending more on education and expanding health care coverage for low-income people, while still leaving a record $410 million estimated surplus by mid-2015.

It contained some financial commitments Schweitzer had previously made. These included freezing college tuition for two years, funding 5 percent pay raises for state employees in each of the next two years after smaller increases were rejected by the 2011 Legislature, and committing money for his plan to help bail out, over time, state pension plans that face $3.9 billion in potential future debts.

He again lent his support to the issuance of nearly $88 million in state bonds at the current low interest rates to pay for construction of new buildings and repairs of current facilities at state colleges and universities and for a new Montana Historical Society building. Lawmakers defeated a similar plan two years ago. The investment would create more than 2,100 jobs, he said.

Schweitzer committed for the first time to expand Medicaid health care coverage for 80,000 low-income people in 2014, as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. - 11/17/12

You should also check out Kos' diary "Gov. Brian Schweitzer to seek universal health care in Montana":

In terms of holding onto the Senate, I am at least happy to see Baucus beating the lunatic Champ Edmunds (R) and the sleazy Corey Stapleton but it doesn't surprise me to see Schewitzer beating Baucus in the primary.  PPP did another poll back in May that showed Schweitzer beating Baucus:

If he wanted to shoot for a different federal office, Schweitzer would also prevail in a Senate primary against Max Baucus if the vote were held two years early.  At this point, 48% of Democratic primary voters prefer Schweitzer and 37% the incumbent. Schweitzer prevails by 32 points among the most liberal voters and 15 among those who say they are somewhat liberal, but only by two points among moderates. - PPP, 5/15/12
Maybe Schweitzer is starting to have a change of heart about the race, hence why he posted the latest PPP poll on his Facebook page.  Maybe Schweitzer is trying in a subtle way to pressure Baucus into retirement.  It's not a crazy idea that Baucus could retire.  Arjun Jaikumar pointed the idea of a Baucus retirement out a little while ago:

Baucus, who's 71, might quit, I guess; he's been in politics or government service basically since he graduated from law school, he's been in Congress since 1974, and he's never made a ton of money, so maybe he wants to be rich.

Republicans probably start with outgoing Rep. Denny Rehberg and incoming Rep. Steve Daines. People are pissed at Rehberg for losing a winnable race, so he might be out of favor recruiting wise, but he has nothing else to do and the race would be easier without Sen. Jon Tester (even if Baucus sticks around). Baucus also beat him in 1996, by about the same margin, so maybe Rehberg's just yesterday's news. Daines just got elected, but he has plenty of money to start with. AG-elect Tim Fox got a huge amount of support from right wing organizations (for a downballot race), so they probably want him to fill his term as AG so he can do some damage. If he runs and wins, incoming Dem Gov. Steve Bullock would get to appoint a successor.

For Democrats, if Baucus retires: LG-elect John Walsh, who was Bullock's running mate; SoS Linda McCulloch; State Auditor Monica Lindeen; and Sup't of Public Instruction Denise Juneau. I assume outgoing Gov. Brian Schweitzer isn't interested, though he ran for Senate in 2000 and did quite well. - DKE, 12/26/12

If Schweitzer is seriously considering this race, I don't blame him for wanting to put the pressure early on Baucus to retire.  Tom Harkin, Jay Rockefeller and Frank Launtenberg are all doing their party a huge favor by announcing their retirements early so they can give the party a lot of time to recruit top notch candidates.  Sure, Baucus has been doing some very early campaigning in Montana to revamp his image after killing the public option during the health care debates.  But Senator Ben Nelson (D. NE) did early campaign videos in 2011 to revamp his image after the Cornhusker Kickback incident:

The Nebraska Democratic Party bought $200,000 in airtime this week to boost endangered Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — a continuation of an aggressive campaign to save the two-term Senator in 2012.

In the ad, Nelson attempts to speak over a garbled montage of his colleagues, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

“They don’t get it. They put politics ahead of what’s best for the country,” Nelson says straight to camera. “We need to balance the budget, but not on the backs of senior citizens, bring our troops home with pride and dignity and invest in American jobs, and American’s future.”

Public polls show that Nelson is one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this cycle. Nelson campaign manager Paul Johnson told Roll Call the advertisement is intended to counter the $500,000 spent this summer by conservative groups attacking the Senator. - Roll Call, 9/9/11

Nelson then decided to retire on December 27th, 2011.  So maybe Baucus might be this election cycle's Ben Nelson.  One can only hope because I'd like to write more about this race, especially if Schweitzer is the nominee.  But The Hill does offer this warning if Schweitzer and Baucus end up duking it out with each other in the primary:

If the two Democrats do run, the primary will be one of the most closely watched in the country. It also has a good chance to be both bloody and expensive, hurting whoever does emerge from the primary's chances of winning the general election in the Republican-leaning state. - The Hill, 2/20/13

Originally posted to pdc on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 10:04 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and Montana Kossaks.

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