MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg will not challenge Montana Sen. Max Baucus in 2008, the state Republican party announced Thursday. In a statement issued by the GOP, Rehberg said he will not be a candidate for Senate or governor next year. “Speculation to the contrary only serves as a distraction from the strong candidates that Montana Republicans will field for each of these important races,” Rehberg said. “I remain completely focused on my job as Montana’s congressman.” Baucus, a five-term Democrat, had raised a total of $4.4 million by the first quarter of this year making him formidable to potential challengers. Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a position that traditionally draws campaign donations from a wide variety of interests. Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer is also up for re-election in 2008, but few speculated that Rehberg would challenge him. Former House Majority Leader Michael Lange has announced he will run against Baucus, but the GOP field is still considered to be wide open. Lange, made famous by a profanitylaced tirade against Schweitzer that made the rounds on YouTube, has already acknowledged he faces an uphill fight. He was ousted by his Republican colleagues after the outburst. The state Republican party has fallen on tough times in past years. In addition to Lange’s dismissal, three-term Republican Sen. Conrad Burns was narrowly defeated by Democrat Jon Tester in last year’s election. In an interview with The Associated Press, Baucus would not comment on Rehberg’s announcement. “My job is to represent Montana and to represent Montana as best I can, irrespective of anything else,” he said. Rehberg unsuccessfully challenged Baucus in 1996. He then went on to win the state’s House seat in 2000.