Brian Schweitzer’s decision not to run for the Senate greatly increases the odds of a GOP takeover in 2014.
By Alex Roarty
July 13, 2013 | 2:21 p.m.

For the first time this year, Republican strategists believe they’re within striking distance of taking back control of the Senate, thanks to untimely Democratic Senate retirements and red-state Democratic recruits deciding not to run for Congress. The latest blow to Democrats: former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s surprising decision Saturday to pass up a campaign.

Republican recognize that they only need to win three Senate seats in the most of conservative of states — Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska — and Mitch McConnell could be a Majority Leader in 2015. (That is, if McConnell can hold onto his own Kentucky seat.) The latest developments underline how punishing the map is for Democrats for 2014, and little margin for error they have.

Democrats can afford to lose up to five Senate seats and still maintain their majority, but they already risk conceding over half that number before campaigning even gets underway.

Schweitzer was the type of grade-A recruit who could nearly guarantee victory despite Montana’s Republican leanings. His near-universal name recognition, blunt outspokenness, and statewide organization made him a heavy favorite, especially when Republicans had yet to field a first-tier challenger. Big Sky Country was beginning to look like a long-shot for the GOP.

But somewhere along the way, Schweitzer got cold feet. Montana Democratic officials were expecting Schweitzer to announce his campaign earlier this week, and were caught by surprise when they didn’t hear from the former governor. Democrats are claiming — after the fact — that they were concerned about vulnerabilities in his background, but Republicans claim that the difficult political environment for Democrats in Montana also played a role.

“We did our homework and there was a lot of rust under Schweitzer’s hood – a LOT of rust,” said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Just as important though is that Schweitzer looked at the race and realized he couldn’t win in light of how unpopular the Democrat agenda of higher taxes, bankrupting spending, and the ObamaCare train wreck is in Montana these days.”

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