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Montana's Lt. Gov. John Walsh, newly appointed to fill Senate seat vacated by Max Baucus
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock went the simplest and safest route on Friday, appointing Lt. Gov. John Walsh to fill the vacancy left by outgoing Sen. Max Baucus, who was easily confirmed as the next U.S. envoy to China by his fellow senators a day earlier. Walsh was already running for the Senate, since Baucus had previously said he wouldn't seek a seventh term this year, and the Democratic establishment had long since rallied around his candidacy.

Walsh had faced a fight in the primary, from former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and rancher Dirk Adams, but Bohlinger recently said he might reconsider the race if Walsh was tapped as senator. Either way, Walsh, whose fundraising has far outstripped his Democratic rivals', is the overwhelming favorite to win his party's nomination.

The biggest question now is how, if at all, this affects Walsh's quest to hold this seat. Republicans are running their first-choice recruit in Rep. Steve Daines, who took in over $1 million in the last quarter of 2013 (a ton for a tiny state like Montana) and who held a wide 52-35 lead in a PPP poll last November. On the one hand, Walsh's promotion, of course, renders him the incumbent, giving him a more prominent platform and perhaps easier access to money.

On the other, Walsh will now have to spend much of his time in Washington, D.C. (and schlepping back and forth from there to Montana). That means fewer hours on the campaign trail, and it also means potentially taking some difficult votes that might not play so well back home. After all, it's not like Congress is particularly popular these days.

But Walsh and the DSCC have undoubtedly polled these questions to death, and if a Senate appointment had been a net negative, Bullock would have surely picked someone else. What's more, with Democrats at a decided disadvantage against Daines, Walsh's elevation at least has the potential to alter the contours of this contest. For now, though, Daily Kos Elections still rates this race as Lean Republican, meaning we think the GOP has an identifiable advantage heading into this fall's elections.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 09:29 AM PST.

Also republished by Military Community Members of Daily Kos, Montana Kossaks, and Daily Kos.

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