Sen. Max Baucus Promotes Montana Job Summit

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus arrives to City Hall in Bozeman on Tuesday, April 2, to promote his 6th Economic Development Summit in Butte this September with local business leaders.

Some local Democrats were sure that Max Baucus was gearing up to run for his seventh term in the U.S. Senate.

So when news broke early Tuesday morning that the 71-year-old senator who has spent the last 33 years in Washington, D.C., wasn’t going to run for re-election in 2014, some were caught off guard.

“It was kind of a shocker,” said Dorothy Eck, a Montana Constitutional Convention delegate and former Democratic senator who represented Bozeman in the Montana Senate for 20 years.

“I think he surprised everybody,” echoed Billy McWilliams, chairman of the Gallatin County Democratic Party Central Committee.

Baucus will finish up his sixth term, which ends in 2014. Earlier, he announced his plans to move to the Bozeman area with his wife, Melodee.

Eck has known Baucus since the early 1970s, she said, while he was working at the Constitutional Convention in Helena. Eck said the two recently discussed a possible run for office.

“It certainly sounded as though he was intending to run,” Eck said.

While Eck said she was surprised at Baucus’ decision, she also lauded it as a smart choice for the current chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

“I really think it’s a good decision,” Eck said. “We’ll lose a little bit of clout not having him there, but we’ll get by.”

McWilliams said he, along with other Democrats, thought another Baucus run for Senate was imminent.

“He had the money. He was walking about the plans. I was under the assumption he was going to run,” McWilliams said.

Baucus has been a face for Democrats throughout the state, McWilliams said, which will be difficult to replace.

“He was the heart of the Montana Democratic Party for many years,” McWilliams said. “This is a sea change.

“The entire Democratic Party was built with Max. And now we have to redo it,” he added.

However, even with Baucus’ departure from politics, McWilliams said he was cautiously optimistic about the future for Democrats in the state. A new candidate will bring a fresh face to the party, he said.

“Progressive politics is on the rise,” McWilliams said.

Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.