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Veteran dealmaker Max Baucus announces Senate retirement

A centrist Democrat in a conservative state, Max Baucus has taken many tough votes over his six terms in the Senate, but battles over guns and health care loomed large in his reelection bid.

By Staff writer / April 23, 2013

Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana leaves his Finance Committee office on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. He said he will not run again for reelection in 2014.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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WASHINGTON

Sen. Max Baucus, who helped draft President Obama’s signature health-care law and who is leading a drive to reform America’s tax code, won’t seek a seventh term in the US Senate in 2014.

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The Montana Democrat has infuriated some in his party over the years by walking a centrist political line in a state that regularly backs Republicans for president but has a long history of elevating members of either party to other statewide offices.

But he’s been a consistent political survivor who will likely bequeath his seat to yet another Democrat, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, should the extremely popular Mr. Schweitzer opt to enter the race.

Senator Baucus recently drew the ire of Democrats, including the campaign organization built by Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign, by calling the implementation of the president’s health-care law a looming “train wreck” and for voting against expanding background checks for firearms sales.

At the same time, Baucus has shown his political mettle in turning back a host of conservative challengers over the past three decades.

“Every six years, Democratic Sen. Max Baucus lands on Republicans’ target list,” wrote the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in an analysis of the race, “and every six years they are disappointed.”

The retirement is less about politics and more about the Montanan’s personal situation, says David Parker, a professor at Montana State University, who is writing a book about the 2012 Senate election in Montana.

Recently remarried and already the Big Sky State’s longest-serving senator at age 71, Baucus has seen many of his longtime colleagues fade from the Senate over the last two terms, Mr. Parker says. Even with $5 million in campaign funds already in the bank, the Senate Finance Committee chairman could have had a grueling campaign on his hands, recalling the bitter and expensive contest between Sen. Jon Tester (D) and then-Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) in 2012.

“You look at what Jon Tester went through,” says Parker, noting that Baucus worked tirelessly to help his friend and colleague. “That was a tough race. Jon worked hard and Denny worked hard. When you’re 71, you might say, ‘Is it worth it to me?’ ”

The politics that may have pushed Baucus to stand down in 2014, from tax reform to guns to the health-care law he helped birth, are murky, but what happens next in Montana is rather straightforward, says Parker.

“If Schweitzer comes in and decides to run, I don’t see a path forward for the Republicans. If he doesn’t? Anything could happen – for both sides,” Parker says. “It all begins and ends with Brian Schweitzer.”

With or without Schweitzer, Democrats see the seat as one they’ll fight to keep.

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