HELENA - Former Republican Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger said Wednesday his decision to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 as a Democrat was sealed by last month's federal government shutdown and Congress' inability to work together.
Bohlinger, 77, made the surprise announcement Tuesday at a Lewis and Clark County Democratic Central Committee party dinner. He confirmed his decision to The Associated Press Wednesday morning at his Helena home.
He had been considering a run for months, but U.S. Rep. Steve Daines' alliance with conservative House Republicans to push for the October shutdown was the tipping point, Bohlinger said.
Daines announced Wednesday his own candidacy for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Max Baucus.
Bohlinger said the shutdown was "an attack on our country" that created a crisis comparable to Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks, but without the loss of life. He said billions of dollars "disappeared from the economy" as a result of the shutdown.
"Daines voted to shut it down. He and the tea party Taliban rejoiced in that. They thought it was clever. They thought it was cute. It's not. It's hurtful," Bohlinger said.
Daines previously blamed the shutdown on Democrats' unwillingness to negotiate over the new federal health care law.
Bohlinger was former Gov. Brian Schweitzer's lieutenant governor for two terms. He is a former Marine, ran a Billings business selling women's apparel for more than 30 years, and he served three terms in the Montana House and two terms in the Montana Senate as a Republican.
Current Lt. Gov. John Walsh and Dirk Adams of Wilsall also are running for the 2014 Democratic nomination.
Walsh's campaign released a statement and forwarded an endorsement by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester that said, "John Walsh is the man for the job."
"We look forward to an honest debate among all candidates about the ideas they have for Montana's future," Walsh campaign manager Michelle Mayorga said in the statement.
Bohlinger said he faced opposition in the past from some Republicans for his progressive views, and now he already is getting pushback for his decision to run for Senate as a Democrat.
Bohlinger said it's inappropriate for the Democratic party to choose sides.
"I said, 'It's not up to Max (Baucus) and Jon (Tester) and the Washington insiders to choose the next senatorial candidate. It's up to the people of Montana,'" Bohlinger said.
Bohlinger previously said he would serve only one six-year term in the Senate if he were elected. On Wednesday, he backed off from that pledge, saying he is "blessed with good health" and it will be up to the people of Montana to decide what they want.