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Montana Politics

Nov 12, 2013 11:30 AM by Sanjay Talwani - Helena

Bohlinger: Harry Reid told me not to run for U.S. Senate

HELENA - Former Montana Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) told him not to run for the U.S. Senate next year, saying he didn't want to see a Democratic primary in the race for the seat being vacated by Max Baucus (D-MT).

Bohlinger, now a Democrat after previously holding state office as a Republican, said that on November 6, the day after he announced his candidacy, he received a phone call from Reid, saying current Lt. Gov. John Walsh was his choice for the ticket.

"And he said, you know, ‘John, you know, you're a nice guy, but we've chosen Walsh. We'd like you to drop out. We don't want to have a primary,'" Bohlinger said. "And I said, ‘Senator, we're going to have a primary in Montana. And it will be the people of Montana that choose the next Democratic Senatorial candidate.'"

Bohlinger said the pair visited on the phone for about 10 or 15 minutes. In the end, Reid wished him good luck and said to call him if he needed any help.

Reid's office did not respond to a request for comment on the matter Monday.

Bohlinger criticized similar such meddling involvement in the primary by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has voiced support for Walsh and has the ability to connect candidates with campaign funds.

He said former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer-the Democrat with whom Bohlinger served in the statehouse as Republican lieutenant governor from 2005 until this year-told him his first call should be to Guy Cecil, executive director of the DSCC, to see if there was support for his candidacy.

But the DSCC said it had already decided to support Walsh, according to Bohlinger.

"And I said, "It's inappropriate for the DSCC to involve themselves in primaries," Bohlinger said. "It's the people of the state of Montana who will choose the next Democratic Senatorial candidate, not the political insiders in Washington, D.C. I'm really surprised that they would do something like that."

The Walsh campaign denied the implication that he is a political insider.

"Montanans know John Walsh is a distinguished military leader, not a politician," Walsh Campaign Manager Michelle Mayorga said in a statement. "He is running for Montana because the status quo in Washington is broken, and it needs courageous, selfless leadership."

Bohlinger also said he was "stunned" that U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., endorsed Walsh last week.

"Jon Tester and I served together in the Montana Senate. We collaborated on legislation. We had a good relationship," Bohlinger said. "Jon's the sort of person that can sit down and negotiate with you and reach across the aisle. We found common ground."

He said he previously campaigned for Tester and contributed to his Senate campaign.

Bohlinger said "so many people" have encouraged him to run, citing his experience with more than 20 years at the public policy table, 33 years as a small businessman, along with service as a Marine, in preparing him to tackle the nation's problems in the Senate.

He was elected three times to the Montana House and twice to the Montana Senate as a Republican.

Among the biggest challenges facing the country, he said, is lack of jobs and opportunities to rebuild the Middle class and the nation's infrastructure. He said he'd seek tax policies to encourage corporations to bring jobs and capital back to the United States.

He also said he wanted to "bring the troops home," saying it was no longer appropriate for America to act as the world' policeman.

He said the partial shutdown of the federal government on October was the "tipping point" for his decision to run for office, comparing Tea Party Republicans to the Taliban and the shutdown to the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

He said similar "shenanigans" could arise again in January when the nation's debt ceiling is reached in January, which could set up another partisan showdown.

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