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In a bit of surprising news, Max Baucus the longtime Senator of Montana, will be announcing his retirement as opposed to running for re-election in 2014.  Baucus, who has served Montana since 1978, has emerged as one of the more likely incumbents to be heavily targeted by Republicans.

At one point, Baucus was considered an elder statesmen of Montana but thanks to his role in the 2010 healthcare debate; his popularity has suffered.  It probably didn’t help matters when he recently stated his fear that the Affordable Care Act that he helped author was heading for a “trainwreck”.

Baucus’s unpopularity amongst independents, progressives and conservatives of course brings up shades of Joe Lieberman.  Baucus recently came under fire from progressives for his vote against the Manchin-Toomey bill that would require universal background checks on purchases of firearms.

Even though he raised a ridiculous $5 million (thanks to his ties to the financial sector), it seems Baucus was either tired of serving in the Senate (unlikely) or knew that his chances for re-election were dim (much likelier).

But this might be one of the rare occasions in which the Democrats could get a vast improvement with a new candidate in former Governor Brian Schweitzer.  Schweitzer, who appears to have national ambitions, has long stated that he had zero interest in heading down to Washington.  Yet with the retirement of his “frenemy” Baucus, he will receive a lot of pressure from various groups to announce a run.

Schweitzer is more progressive than Baucus in terms of healthcare and marriage equality, but still is pro-Keystone pipeline and someone who likely won’t vote against any gun reform measure.  Nonetheless, he would be an upgrade in making the seat slightly bluer and he is far more populist and likable than the entrenched Baucus.

The Republicans, for all the fervor in potentially beating Baucus, have only attracted two lower-tier candidates in former State Sen. Corey Stapleton and state Rep. Champ Edmunds neither who would seem to possess a great shot at beating the affable Schweitzer.  I would expect the Republicans to make a big push to get former Governor Marc Racicot to make the leap though AG Tim Fox has a lot of potential around him as well.

Still, now we wait and see if Schweitzer does indeed do his part to preserve a Democratic majority in the Senate.