WASHINGTON (AP) — Veteran Democratic Sen. Max Baucus said Tuesday he will not run for re-election, giving a boost to Republican hopes for winning control of the chamber in next year's mid-term elections.
Baucus, the chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, is from the Republican-leaning western state of Montana. The seat will likely become a prime target for Republicans, who need to win six seats in next year's election to take control of the Senate. But it is hardly a sure pickup. Though Mitt Romney handily won the state over President Barack Obama last year, Democrats have proved resilient in the state. They have held the governorship for three terms, and also hold the state's other Senate seat.
Still, the retirement is a further burden on Democrats. They will be defending 21 seats next year to Republicans 14 in the 100-seat Senate. Complicating the situation for Democrats, Baucus' retirement means they will have defend at least six seats in which the incumbent is not seeking an additional term, while only two Republicans have announced plans to retire. Incumbents tend to have the advantage in congressional contests.
Baucus has been a fixture in the Senate since 1979 and has been the top Democrat on the finance panel since 2001.
A Democrat with an independent streak, Baucus supported President George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2001, which liberals disliked, and Obama's signature 2010 health care law, which conservatives disliked. He broke with his party this year to oppose both the Senate Democratic budget blueprint and a hotly fought effort to beef up background checks for gun purchases.
He faced a tough re-election bid next year, with opposition to the health care law in his state taking a toll on his approval ratings.
"I don't want to die here with my boots on. There is life beyond Congress," the 71-year-old Baucus said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Associated Press writers Donna Cassata and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.