Bigfork Republican May Challenge Max

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Former Bigfork Republican state lawmaker Bob Keenan said Tuesday he is being courted by the party to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, a run Keenan says he is considering.

Keenan, who ran a failed primary challenge last year against then-Sen. Conrad Burns, would be the second Republican to enter the race. State Rep. Michael Lange of Billings announced late last month.

When Keenan ran in the primary against Burns, he offered himself as a choice for Republicans worried either about Burns’ perceived ethics problems or about overspending in Washington, D.C. Keenan lost in the June 2006 primary, drawing 22 percent of the vote on a shoestring campaign budget.

Keenan, 55, said the National Republican Senatorial Committee has called him and asked that he enter the race for the seat held by Baucus. Keenan said he was told that his name fared well in polls commissioned by the committee.

“I am considering it,” he said of a run for office. “I have the passion for it, but I really didn’t expect to be involved in this election cycle.”

Some Republicans worry that Lange, fired by colleages as House majority leader, is not a suitable candidate. Just last week, a Republican state senator came out against Lange, who made headlines earlier this year for a profanity-strewn lashing against Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

The new chairman of the Montana Republican Party, Erik Iverson, said a primary battle between Keenan and Lange would help draw interest to the race and help the party.

“Bob Keenan would make an excellent candidate for U.S. Senate,” Iverson said. “He was a leader in the Legislature, he is a successful businessman. He is a sharp man, and very savvy.”

Iverson, who has talked to Keenan about running, said a potential Keenan candidacy has drawn a lot of interest among Republicans.

“Seeing someone of Bob Keenan’s caliber considering a run only underscores the fact that Baucus is beatable,” Iverson said.

Iverson also said that Lange would make a good candidate.

The GOP chairman, who called Keenan a “maverick political independent,” said many Republicans respect Keenan for having the courage to challenge Burns in the primary.

Baucus, first elected to the Senate in 1978, is nearly certain to have a big fundraising edge over whichever Republican emerges from the June 2008 primary. He has raised a total of about $6 million for his re-election bid.

“There will be plenty of time to compare records once there’s a (Republican) nominee,” said Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser. “For now, Max is focused on using his chairmanship of the powerful Finance Committee to do what’s right for Montana.”

In his last election in 2002, Baucus easily beat challenger Mike Taylor, a state senator at the time. In 1996, Denny Rehberg, now Montana’s lone member of the U.S. House, gave Baucus a tough challenge.

“I think its time for change, I just think it’s time for a fresh look,” Keenan said. “I don’t think it’s an insurmountable challenge to run against Max Baucus.”

Keenan was first elected to the Montana House in 1994. He was elected to the state Senate in 1998 and served as Senate president in 2003 and 2004 before being forced out by term limits.