Former state senator and Republican Corey Stapleton of Montana is jumping into the race to challenge a long-serving Senate Democrat, Max Baucus. One Republican strategist says Stapleton, a former state senator and retired officer in the Navy, has a "good story to tell," calling the small business owner a "young, fresh face."
Stapleton ran for governor last year but came in second in a crowded GOP primary to former congressman Rick Hill. Hill went on to lose the general election to Democrat Steve Bullock, despite the fact that Montanans voted for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by more than 11 percentage points.
In his last campaign Baucus, who has represented Montana in the Senate since 1978, spent more than $11 million and defeated Republican Bob Kelleher in 2008 by a whopping 46 percentage points. His toughest electoral fight came in 1996, when he squeaked by with 50 percent, but for the most part, he's cruised to victory. It hasn't hurt that Baucus, with his senior status and his chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee, is one of the most powerful members of Congress. Montana may haved voted for Republicans at the top of the ticket every four years since 1996, but they also like moderate Democrats like Baucus.
In fact, Democrats have had a lot of success in Montana over the last decade, with the junior senator Jon Tester defeating scandal-plagued Republican Conrad Burns in 2006 and winning reelection last year against Republican House member Denny Rehberg. And with Bullock's victory in 2012, Democrats have also won the last three gubernatorial races, a streak started by two-term governor Brian Schweitzer.
A challenge from Stapleton or any other Republican candidate may not be easy in this nominally red state, although Baucus is showing signs of weakness. An October 2012 poll from Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, showed Baucus with a 54 percent disapproval rating, with just 35 percent of those polled saying they approved of his job as senator.