Democrats start search for US Senate candidate

Democrats have begun looking for a potential candidate for U.S. Senate after former governor Brian Schweitzer's surprise announcement over the weekend that he will not run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Max Baucus.

Party officials said Monday they still believe Democrats are in a strong position to hold the seat even without the popular two-term governor. But Republicans expressed confidence the race is now tilting in their favor.

Attention shifted to Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau and Lt. Gov. John Walsh, considered possible candidates. Lindeen said Monday that she would like to make a decision before Labor Day.

Nationally, Democrats and Republicans consider Montana a key seat as they battle for control of the Senate. Money is expected to pour in from both sides. While Montanans do not register by party, political experts say a GOP candidate for statewide office can assume an advantage of roughly 5 percentage points in the conservative but libertarian-leaning state.

Walsh said he was surprised by Schweitzer's announcement on Saturday because most assumed he would run for the seat that has been held by Baucus since 1979. Walsh, a former Montana National Guard commander who took office this year with Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, said he has been focused on his new job.