In a surprising twist for the 2014 midterm elections, former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana will not run for the U.S. Senate as expected, according to a source familiar with his decision.
Schweitzer was widely considered to be the Democratic frontrunner to campaign for the seat and keep it in Democrats' hands after the current holder, Sen. Max Baucus, retires at the end of his sixth term.
After Baucus' retirement announcement in late April, Schweitzer said he was thinking about a Senate bid, a senior Democratic official told CNN at the time.
The folksy former governor, known for his signature bolo tie, had strong approval ratings in office and was elected to his second term in 2008 with 65% of the vote.
The Democrats control the Senate 54-46 (with two independents caucusing with the party), but they need to defend 21 of the 35 seats up for grabs in November 2014.
Other potential Democratic names for the Montana seat include EMILY's List Executive Director Stephanie Schriock, Montana Supreme Court Justice Brian Morris, state Sen. Kendall Van Dyk, Montana public schools Superintendent Denise Juneau and state Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen.
Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the party is "confident" that Democrats can hold onto the Montana seat and predicted the "overall math still favors Democrats next year."
"Only three Democratic incumbents have lost reelection in the last decade," he said in a statement. "Our incumbents are positioned to win, we've already recruited a strong challenger to Mitch McConnell and Republicans have failed to expand the senate map into blue and purple states."
Schweitzer's decision will no doubt leave some disappointed. The liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a grass-roots group that in part cut its teeth on Elizabeth Warren's successful Senate campaign in Massachusetts, had been aggressively pushing a Schweitzer run.
Almost immediately after Baucus announced that he would not run for re-election, the group went ahead with its Draft Brian Schweitzer campaign. It raised $10,000 within the first five hours in April. (When the group supported Warren, it raised $100,000 before she launched her campaign and $1.1 million overall.)
More than 22,000 people had signed their support to the effort to draft Schweitzer.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee had already launched attacks on Schweitzer in preparation for his bid, considering him a potentially vulnerable Democrat in a state with large swaths of Republican voters.
He's also been considered a potential dark horse in the Democratic presidential primary in 2016.