Wanzenried Won’t Run, Other Democrats Eye U.S. House Race

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – A Missoula Democrat said Monday he is not going to challenge incumbent Rep. Denny Rehberg, leaving Democrats to keep looking for someone to replace Bill Kennedy.

Montana Democrats were left in the lurch when their sole candidate for the U.S. House, Kennedy, of Billings, said he was getting out of the race due to health concerns.

Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Missoula was among the Democrats said to be eyeing a run at the office.

But he said Monday he is going to stay in the state Senate.

“While we have made progress, we still have a lot of work to do in Helena in the areas of health care and health insurance for Montana working families, access to public lands and adequate funding for K-12 education and the university system,” Wanzenried said. “I look forward to the many challenges facing the Legislature in 2009 in order to keep Montana moving forward.”

Wanzenried said he is not backing any single Democrat among those looking at the race.

“Until somebody announces, I am going to let everyone thinking about it decide for themselves,” he said.

Rehberg cruised to a victory in 2006 for his fourth term in the U.S. House.

He was in the state Legislature until serving as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Marc Racicot. Rehberg last lost an election when he came close to knocking off incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus in 1996.

Wanzenried said it will take “a lot of hard work and a very careful examination of his voting record” for a Democrat to top Rehberg this cycle.

Kennedy surprised Democrats earlier this month when he said health reasons prevented him from continuing his race against Rehberg. The Yellowstone County commissioner has declined to elaborate on his health concerns.

Art Noonan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said he is talking daily with potential contenders.

“I don’t think it’s too late to put together a credible campaign,” he said. “Will it be easy at this point to put together a credible campaign? No, it won’t.”

Kendall Van Dyk, a Democratic state lawmaker from Billings, remains among those eyeing the race, as does former lawmaker Steve Doherty.

Van Dyk said he hopes to make up his mind in the next couple of weeks.

“I think one of the things we have in the Democratic Party is a pretty deep bench to take on Denny Rehberg,” he said.