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First-term state lawmaker faces hasty campaign in Montana Senate race

PoliticsElectionsJohn Walsh (Politician)Steve DainesU.S. SenateGovernment
State Rep. Amanda Curtis selected as Democratic U.S. Senate nominee in Montana
First-term state lawmaker to challenge GOP Rep. Steve Daines for Montana U.S. Senate seat

For Montana Democratic state Rep. Amanda Curtis, victory this November in her state's U.S. Senate race will be a difficult task.

The first-term state lawmaker from the mountain town of Butte was selected Saturday by state Democrats as the party's nominee in a special convention hastily assembled after U.S. Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) bowed out of the race this month in the wake of plagiarism allegations. 

With little money or statewide name recognition, Curtis is thought to have an uphill climb to beat GOP nominee Rep. Steve Daines in a midterm election that is less than three months away. 

"It's nearly impossible for her to beat Daines, just like it was difficult for Walsh," said David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University. "She has three months to get her name known around the state and it's likely to be a wave year for Republicans, so she's just put in a diffcult place."

When Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Walsh in February to replace longtime Sen. Max Baucus, Democrats had hoped that they could retain the seat because Walsh's credentials included service in the Montana National Guard and in Iraq. But polls leading up to Walsh's exit from the race had him trailing Daines. 

Curtis, a 34-year-old high school math teacher, has strong support from unions in the state, which will bankroll her campaign and look to blunt some of Daines' $1.7-million war chest. 

After Walsh's exit from the race, some urged former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer to run against Daines to give the party a recognized nominee who could quickly raise money.

"Now, the party has a schoolteacher. She's known in Butte, but in political circles around the state she is not a household name," Parker said. "She's essentially the party's scapegoat this fall."

Curtis bested rancher Dirk Adams in Saturday's nominating convention. 

Republicans need to pick up six seats to take control of the Senate, and Montana is one of a handful of states with open Democratic seats they hope to capture. The others include West Virginia and South Dakota, where Sens. Jay Rockefeller IV and Tim Johnson are retiring.

Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, declined to comment on the battle Democrats face in Montana, but said Saturday that the committee plans to support Curtis. 

Jim Larson, chairman of the state Democratic Party, called Curtis a "force to be reckoned with."

"As a teacher, Curtis has a unique insight into what matters most to Montana families," Larson said.

Follow @kurtisalee for the latest political news and send tips to kurtis.lee@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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PoliticsElectionsJohn Walsh (Politician)Steve DainesU.S. SenateGovernment
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