Keenan Plans to Discuss Senate Bid With GOP Senators

By Beacon Staff

WASHINGTON (AP) – Former Montana state lawmaker Bob Keenan will be discussing a potential U.S. Senate bid with top Republicans this week, although he says he is still undecided about whether he will run.

Keenan has plans to meet with Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and John Ensign, R-Nev., about a challenge to Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana next year. McConnell is the Senate Republican leader and Ensign is in charge of GOP campaign efforts. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

Keenan, who has said for several months that party leaders are courting him, is speaking like a candidate, saying it’s time for a change in the Senate. But he has also repeatedly said he is toying with a run for governor as well.

“I’m pretty much just considering the possibility (of running for the Senate),” Keenan said from Washington on Tuesday. “I’m wide open. There’s a lot of pressure and assumption and expectation that I might run for governor of Montana as well. The third and most attractive option is to skip the ’08 cycle and go on with my life.”

He acknowledged that it is expected to be a tough year for Republicans. Not only are Baucus and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer popular Democratic incumbents, but President Bush has seen low approval ratings for many months.

“2008 is not an encouraging year to be running,” Keenan said. “People are mad at George Bush and it’s going to trickle down. Whether people can look past that and look at the independent candidates remains to be seen.”

Keenan, 55, of Bigfork was a Senate candidate in 2006, challenging fellow Republican and incumbent Conrad Burns in the GOP Senate primary. Keenan lost but Burns, dogged by allegations of unethical behavior, was later defeated by Democrat Jon Tester.

Keenan said his decision to challenge Burns was controversial and doesn’t appear to regret it.

“I was right,” he said, referring to Burns’s eventual defeat. “Now people realize that I’ll call a spade a spade.”

Any race against Baucus, who has held the seat since 1979, is expected to be tough. Baucus became chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee when Democrats took the Senate in last November’s elections, and he has already raised a formidable $6 million by the middle of 2007.

Still, Keenan could prove a more attractive candidate than former Montana House Majority Leader Michael Lange, who has already announced that he will run.

Lange was ousted by his Republican colleagues after a profanity-laced tirade against Schweitzer, which later made the rounds on YouTube. He has acknowledged an uphill fight against Baucus.

Keenan said he wants to clarify with Ensign and McConnell what their outlook is on the Baucus race and if it would be a priority for them.

Rebecca Fisher, a spokeswoman for Ensign, said the senators “look forward to the opportunity to sit down with Bob to discuss ways to defeat Max Baucus next November.”

Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser said the senator is focusing on his Senate duties, for now.

“Should Mr. Keenan decide to run and ultimately become the nominee, we will vigorously defend Max Baucus’s solid record,” Kaiser said.

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.

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