The Baucus Six

By Beacon Staff

A 34-year-old Billings truck driver entered Montana’s U.S. Senate race Monday because, well, he just really can’t stand Democratic incumbent Max Baucus.

“It seems like every time (Baucus) opens his mouth, he just really rubs me the wrong way,” Shay Joshua Garnett, who has never run for political office, told the Billings Gazette. “In our system, we can either accept other people’s candidates or provide our own. I guess this is my version of providing my own candidate.”

Fair enough: Who hasn’t found some politician so obnoxious they wish someone would just shut them up? And, talk about putting your money – in this case, a $1,693 candidate filing fee – where your mouth is. It’s good to see an “average Joe-type” rather than a polished politician taking advantage of the democratic process.

But I couldn’t help but notice what an eclectic crew the Republican Senate race is drawing. And, with two truck drivers, three newcomers, a perennial election loser and a man my grandma would say needs soap in his mouth, what are the chances of unseating Baucus, a well-funded incumbent?

Garnett joins five people already in the Republican U.S. Senate primary: Kirk Bushman, a facility designer from Billings; Butte attorney Bob Kelleher; state Rep. Michael Lange of Billings; Missoula accountant Patty Lovaas; and St. Regis truck driver and rancher Anton Pearson.

Garnett and Pearson will likely spend the most time on the road of any of the candidates, but rather than building a voter base, it’ll likely be a hindrance to their campaigns. Garnett, who said he entered the race “kind of on a whim,” doesn’t plan to raise funds or do much campaigning since he’ll continue working full-time as a delivery truck driver.

Pearson, 64, has every intention of running a campaign, but will limit traveling to Republican Party events and meeting voters mostly to the weekends. Monday through Friday, he’ll be driving an 85-foot truck, delivering wrecked vehicles and other steel products to sites in Utah and Canada.

Both political novices, it’s hard to imagine the inexperienced duo having the time, know-how and energy to mount a viable campaign.

Kelleher is the perennial candidate of sorts – this will be his 16th run for office since 1964. He’s lost 14 times. He’s run on Democratic and Green Party tickets previously, and advocates altering the United States Constitution to switch to a parliamentary form of government. That seems like a tough issue to get a majority of federal lawmakers behind.

Lange, while the most experienced of the group, is probably best known for his profane outburst against Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the waning days of the bitter 2007 Legislature. And Bushman, a 41-year-old Billings engineer, is another political newcomer, though his stumping points may be the most traditional of the Republican candidates. Lovaas — with perhaps the most insightful look at the race — said she filed because she didn’t feel any of the other GOP candidates were strong enough to beat Baucus.

It’s an interesting bunch that may do well to heed Garnett’s attitude: “I’m not under any illusions that I’m going to be some great shooting star, but the field is small enough. There’s always an outside chance.” Indeed, there’s always a chance, and with two days left to file, who knows who else this race may draw.

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