In a surprising and fascinating development, John Bohlinger, 77, has jumped into the U.S. Senate race. He’ll face off in the primary against the man who took his job, the current Lt. Governor John Walsh.
It’s an interesting contest. If the election were today, Bohlinger would likely win because he is known by many more people in Montana than Walsh. But Walsh has spent the last several months working the gears in Washington, DC, to get finances and get the blessing of the power brokers, as well as traveling the state making himself known. All in all, one has to expect that it is possible, if not probable, that we will see a seriously competitive race in the primary.
Bohlinger has strengths. He is a natural politician and is well liked by most everybody who meets him, including many moderate and liberal Republicans and liberal democrats too.
The dirty secret about Bohlinger is that despite his effort to make the Schweitzer administration a bipartisan affair, he is quite a liberal fellow. He was a voice for LGBT equality, for example, long before most Democrats found the courage to speak up about the issue. He sponsored and supported hate crimes legislation as a Republican, is a vocal opponent of the death penalty, and was virtually ostracized from the Republican party as a result of it. He has been known to be openly scornful of the modern Republican party, even while trying to remain technically a member of that party during the Schweitzer years.
He is pro-choice, but he has at times in the past said that he is personally against abortion, in line with his Catholic beliefs. His voting record on abortion is mixed, not pure, although on the central issue of reproductive rights he seems to be in the right place-keeping the government out of the decision altogether.
He has often called for universal health coverage, has been a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, and has championed more aide for the poor, specifically more food stamp funding. He has also voiced opposition to both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Conservatives and GOP operatives are not big fans of Bohlinger. He tried on occasion to invite himself to their annual convention, and was usually rebuffed. He was asked by John McCain to be his state campaign chairman in 2008, and served briefly in that role until Conrad Burns informed McCain that Bohlinger was a democrat at heart, and Bohlinger was then kicked out.
Being a former Republican means two things for Bohlinger: that he will have to gain some trust among skeptics in the primary, but that he could expect an enormous windfall of moderate voters in the general election. Steve Daines, having shit all over himself by stupidly voting with the Tea Party to shut down the government, is going to have a tough time getting moderate voters. He is now at 39% in the polls and is quite beatable.
Bohlinger is also not afraid to speak his mind. Today, for example, he was quoted in the Helena IR as saying that Steve Daines’s shutting down of the government is the economic equivalent to the Taliban.
And perhaps his strongest selling point is his participation in the Schweitzer administration. In effect, Bohlinger could run a campaign with similar content to what a Schweitzer Senate campaign might have consisted of. Bohlinger can describe the successes of the Schweitzer-Bohlinger administration, and then promise to bring a Schweitzer-Bohlinger mentality to Washington.
And if you are a country music fan, realize that his son is John Bohlinger III, the musician and bandleader on the show Nashville Star.
True, age is a factor. Bohlinger is 77 and would be 78 if inaugurated, and politics is definitely a young person’s game. But he is in good shape apparently, and held his announcement press conference today at a gymnasium where he works out every day.
Plus, how can anybody not love a guy who reminds them of their grandpa?