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Obama Names Max Baucus as Ambassador to China

President Obama has decided to send retiring Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to China as the U.S. ambassador. Since practically every decision made in Washington these days is fundamentally political, surely this one is, too. In 2014, there will be an open-seat election in Montana and Obama and the Democrats are clearly worried about holding the seat in such a red state (albeit with a strong populist bent). The Republicans see this as one of their best pickup opportunities. So what does this have to do with sending Baucus to China? Why the 72-year-old Baucus, who has never exhibited much interest in foreign policy, except for trade issues wants to go there is not clear. Maybe he likes Chinese food and there are no good Chinese restaurants in Montana. Of course, trade with China is an important issue and might justify Baucus' appointment, even if he is not especially interested in human rights or other foreign policy issues.

In any event, Baucus' successor for the remainder of his term will be appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT). Obama knows this very well. Having the Democratic candidate in 2014 be an incumbent senator probably gives him a leg up on his Republican opponent, since it gives him a year to become better known. Also, incumbent senators can raise money more easily than senator wannabes. Bullock can pick anyone he wants to, but the most likely candidate is Lt. Gov. John Walsh. The election rate for appointed senators is anything but stellar (about 50%), but the most recent appointed senator to run on his own, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), won, and that is probably on Obama's mind.

The Republicans have not settled on a candidate yet. The state's lone representative, Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), is already running for an upgrade to the Senate, but so are four other candidates, which will lead to a nasty primary. An unopposed incumbent senator would clearly have the opportunity to look more senatorial than five candidates engaged in a big brawl. State Republicans are already asking Bullock to appoint a placeholder who would not run in 2014--a sure sign that they see an appointed senator who intends to run in 2014 as a real threat.

Democrats Sweep Virginia Statewide Offices

Yesterday, Virginia state senator Mark Obenshain (R) conceded defeat to state senator Mark Herring (D) in a bitter recount fight for attorney general of Virginia. After election night, Herring had a tiny lead over Obenshain of 165 votes, but as the recount proceeded, Herring's lead kept growing, and is now more than 800 votes and still growing. So Obenshain threw in the towel. The larger issue is not whether Herring will run for governor in 2017 (Virginia governors are limited to one term), but the symbolism here: for the first time in over 40 years, the Democrats control all five statewide elected offices. They also have both U.S. Senate seats. The implications for 2016 are clear: Virginia is no longer a red state. It is a purple state and rapidly becoming a blue state. In 10 years, Virginia could be indistinguishable from Maryland. This change is due to a tremendous influx of people in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia, many of them college educated and relatively liberal. If Virginia becomes a Democratic state, the Republicans will have an increasingly difficult time assembling 270 electoral votes in presidential elections. The math just doesn't add up. While Obenshain's concession doesn't change the demographics at all, it brings to the fore the difficult situation the GOP is going to find itself in 2016.

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