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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.

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Democrats have had a great deal of electoral success in Montana over the last decade, and I am confident that will continue,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Colorado, the head of his party’s committee charged with electing Democratic senators, in a statement. “Democrats built an unprecedented ground game in Montana in 2012 when Senator Tester was reelected, and we will continue to invest all the resources necessary to hold this seat.”

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Republicans, for their part, see Baucus's exit as proof that the president’s health-care law will spell doom for many of the seven Democrats having to defend seats in states won by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

"Vulnerable Democrats will face voters just as ObamaCare's tax hikes, mandates, fees, penalties, and red-tape bureaucracy take shape over the next eight months, and Senator Baucus' retirement reflects that political reality,” said Rob Collins, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement. “The 2014 electoral map is in free-fall for Democrats, who were already facing a daunting challenge."

A survey from the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling in February found Baucus beating either of the two announced Republican candidates (former state Senate majority leader Corey Stapleton and state Rep. Champ Edmunds) but with more voters viewing Baucus unfavorably than favorably. Moreover, Schweitzer outstripped Baucus in a hypothetical matchup between the state’s deepest-rooted political figures.

While Schweitzer has previously soft-pedaled his ambitions in Washington, National Journal reported that the man famous for his bolo ties was “leaning toward” a Senate campaign.

Parker says the move makes sense for Schweitzer if he does, as has been widely rumored, have designs on the White House.

“If he does have presidential ambitions, [it would help] to do a stint in the Senate,” Parker says. “He has to build that national recognition and national fundraising networks, which is something that is difficult for him to come by coming from such a small state like Montana.”

Baucus has been an effective champion of Montana’s interests in Washington – from exporting beef to Asia to funneling federal dollars into public projects in the Big Sky to the state’s agriculture priorities, the last of which Baucus reportedly raised in the middle of “grand bargain” fiscal negotiations with Vice President Joe Biden in 2011. But he also has many critics who see him as a creature of Washington, a senator whose former staffers are peppered throughout the lobbying industry’s top firms.

"Good bye, Senator K Street,” said Stephanie Taylor, a co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that targeted Baucus with negative advertisements after his gun bill vote on background checks.

“Montana will finally have a chance to have a senator with its best interests at heart,” Ms. Taylor said in a statement, “and we hope Brian Schweitzer jumps into the race immediately."

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