Updated 9:58 a.m. ET, 7/15
(CNN) - In a surprising twist for the 2014 midterm elections, former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana will not run for the U.S. Senate as expected, according to a source familiar with his decision.
Schweitzer was widely considered to be the Democratic frontrunner to campaign for the seat and keep it in Democrats' hands after the current holder, Sen. Max Baucus, retires at the end of his sixth term.
After Baucus' retirement announcement in late April, Schweitzer said he was thinking about a Senate bid, a senior Democratic official told CNN at the time.
The folksy former governor, known for his signature bolo tie, had strong approval ratings in office and was elected to his second term in 2008 with 65% of the vote.
Schweitzer told the Associated Press on Saturday that he didn't want to leave Montana for Washington.
He pointed to his new position as board chairman of the Stillwater Mining Company in Montana, saying he has “taken on a new life” at the company. His election to the position in May sparked speculation that it may affect his thoughts on a Senate run.
But a source familiar with his decision not to run said Schweitzer was beginning to recognize what senior Democrats in Washington had feared.
“The research book was getting worse by the minute,” the source said.
Schweitzer’s name has popped up in recent reports this month regarding his ties to a political nonprofit group and questions over its disclosure practices.
Schweitzer was a vocal opponent of a the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for super PACs, which are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as they don't coordinate with campaigns, and lambasted secret money campaigns.
But the former governor denied on Saturday that the recent controversy affected his decision.
"This isn't my first rodeo," Schweitzer told the AP.
The Democrats control the Senate 54-46 (with two independents caucusing with the party), but they need to defend 21 of the 35 seats up for grabs in November 2014.
For their part, Republicans welcomed Schweitzer's announcement. "This news is a pivotal, sea-chage moment in our efforts to earn back the majority in the Senate," said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The NRSC had already launched attacks on Schweitzer in preparation for his bid, considering him a potentially vulnerable Democrat in a state with large swaths of Republican voters. He's also been considered a potential dark horse in the Democratic presidential primary in 2016.
In their effort to retake the majority, Republicans are battling to win back seats held by Democrats in red states like Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, and Arkansas. With Schweitzer off the ticket, that puts Montana more in play for the GOP.
But Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the party is "confident" that Democrats can hold onto the Montana seat and predicted the "overall math still favors Democrats next year."
"Only three Democratic incumbents have lost reelection in the last decade," he said in a statement. "Our incumbents are positioned to win, we've already recruited a strong challenger to Mitch McConnell and Republicans have failed to expand the senate map into blue and purple states."
Potential Democratic names floating around for the Montana seat include EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock, Montana Supreme Court Justice Brian Morris, state Sen. Kendall Van Dyk, Montana public schools Superintendent Denise Juneau and state Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen.
Schweitzer's decision will no doubt leave some disappointed. The liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a grass-roots group that in part cut its teeth on Elizabeth Warren's successful Senate campaign in Massachusetts, had been aggressively pushing a Schweitzer run.
Almost immediately after Baucus announced in April that he would not run for re-election, the group went ahead with its Draft Brian Schweitzer campaign. It has since raised $35,000, with $10,000 raised in the first five hours. (When the group supported Warren, it raised $100,000 before she launched her campaign and $1.1 million overall.)
More than 22,000 people had signed their support to the effort to draft Schweitzer, with many of them pledging to donate or volunteer if he decided to run.
"We are urging him to reconsider," the group's co-founder, Adam Green, told CNN.
– CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.
Finally, Montana democrats can run a true liberal canddte that quits pretending that he is not a moderate republican. One that will support th Affordable Care Act in all of its glory, and denounce the bloodlust of the extreme fringe right wing that have siezed control of the Montana GOP and Montana's legislative. The smoke and mirrors of tea-party non-issues like the second amendment are typical of their archiac false morality, that a true democratic candidate, unlike baucus or schweitzer, can now expose for its cowardly origin of slavery and fear.
Baucus was a shill for Health Industry lobbyists. He was personally responsible for destroying the "public option" that would have stripped the Health Industry of its predatory power.
After retirement, he will likely get a cushy job with one of the Health Insurers, instead of being tried and put in jail like he deserves.
I wonder what will become of the millions of donations to his campaign when he leaves the senate?
Good for him who needs it. Politics has become a blood sport and nothing is getting done on the local, state or national level.
Politics, from the very inception, has always been a bloodsport. Both figuratively and literally. How many "nobles" lost their heads because of "crown" politics over the eons? What about Julius Caesar? What about Abraham Lincoln? What about the "Night of the Long Knives" or the various purges whenever someone new came to power in the Soviet Union or now in China? What about the Khmer Rouge? What about Argentina in the 1980s? Lebanon? Syria? Iraq? Afghanistan? The list is endless.
Worry not. There are plenty of other thieves who'll replace him.
The R's can forget West Virginia. It may always go for the R's in the presidential elections, but both Senate seats have always gone Democratic. We're a poor state who don't take kindly to the Republican philosophy.
Keep voting Democrat and you will guarantee being a poor state forever. Especially after Obama and the Democrats kill the coal industry in your state.
The American People need to wake up and realize they need to get out and vote regardless of how difficult Republicans have made it in states with voter suppression laws. Extremists need to be removed from both state and national seats. If we do not elect real leaders who intend to work for the People and not filibuster 411 bills for jobs, education, infrastructure, and even veterans aid we will be facing losing even more rights. Workers, women, and we as voters have had our rights diluted for the benefit of corporate greed and no accountability. Republicans will continue to do NOTHING for We the People. They have betrayed us for years and it's time for those who will put us first.
It will become more and more problematic for the already embattled GOP underdogs to win the senate seat as they had hoped to do. With people already seeing more and more of what the Republicans are truly like, with the latest expose' coming from Texas on abortion, it will be an uphill battle for their party once again. May The Best Democrat Win!!
I don't see Republicans doing any better.
Where is all that 'limited government' we were promised? It is still more of the same ol' same ol' -- God, gays and guns.
Hey, frdms2theift and rasPutin, I see both of you have been following old Max Baucus, like I have! He plays both sides of the fence, which ever corporation pays him the most to vote like they want him to vote. When affordable Care was in the works, he sold all of us down the river. He voted yes on HR 3590, but he took $444,539.00 from the group to support the bill – and he took $618,751.00 from the group to oppose the bill, then he took $68,000.00 Amgen Bio. to vote in their favor, along with Orrin Hatch, who took $59,000.00 and Mitch McConnell who took $73,000.00, which wound up costing Medicare a few billion dollars! They never worked for the people or the country, just themselves and the corporations. I will be glad when all those greedy blood suckers are gone. I've seen a lot of men die shortly after they retired, may they have the same luck!
Baucus is gone a typical DINO who wasn't needed and now we can have Montana vote for a true blue blood progressive instead of one who only masqueraded as one in Baucus..Good riddence Baucus you certainly won't be missed and you know it traitor!!