Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Democrat Jon Tester's bid to keep his Montana Senate seat - yet another race to watch in 2012

By Richard K. Barry

For the record, heavyweight political prognosticator Charlie Cook has 10 Senate races listed as toss-ups in 2012. Those on the list currently held by Republicans are Nevada and Massachusetts. Those now held by Democrats are North Dakota, West Virginia, Virginia, Missouri, New Mexico, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Montana. Yes, more math that works against Democrats.

According to John Cornyn, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the last one mentioned, the Montana seat held by one-term Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, is one of three the GOP has identified (along with North Dakota and Nebraska) as most ripe for the picking. Whether he's right or wrong, a February poll has Tester's likely Republican challenger, Denny Rehberg, ahead by a margin of 47% to 44%. Granted that the sample size was only 400 and the margin of error 4.65%, which basically means that they are in a dead heat at this early point.

Rehberg has been the U.S. Representative for Montana's at-large congressional district since 2001 and has been described as the state's best-known Republican. Yeah, this is unlikely to be a slam dunk for Senator Tester.

For the record, Tester beat incumbent Republican Conrad Burns in 2006 by the slim margin of 49.2% to 48.3%. You may recall that his victory was, along with Democrat Jim Webb in Virginia, one of the two closest and last decided senate races of the season.

As some sort of counterbalance I should add that Max Baucus is the other senator from Montana, a Democrat who has served since 1978 and won his last election by a 73% to 27% margin. In other words, there are indicators both ways.

I notice that Tester has raised $1 million in the first quarter of this year to help him in his battle with Rehberg, who has apparently raised less than half this amount in the same amount of time. As an interesting note, in the 2006 race, Tester raised $5.5 million when he upset incumbent Burns, who raised $9.4 million. So there is little doubt the race this time around will be flooded with cash on both sides.

In terms of presidential elections, Montana is a fairly reliable Republican state, even having gone to McCain by a 50% to 47% margin in 2008.

Senator Tester is an interesting contradiction, as I suppose anyone would have to be who is strongly in Obama's camp while representing a rural western state. He is pro-choice, pro-stem cell research, supports increases in funding for public education, supports alternative energy and has supported the Kyoto protocol. He voted for Obama's health care reform and the 2009 stimulus bill and to confirm Obama's SCOTUS nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. He opposed the Patriot Act as having "very little to do with the war on terrorism," and he has been quite willing to challenge measures that he says benefit only the wealthy.

He has, however, spoken against gay marriage and flag burning and voted against the DREAM act, which would have created a way for the children of illegal immigrants to become citizens. And he has angered environmentalists by voting for a plan to allow the hunting of the region's grey wolves, which prey on live stock and game.

Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, who raised significant cash for Tester in 2006, has said that Tester is "the Democrat I will be most happy to see go down in defeat."

I go into detail here simply because it points out the need to be open to supporting popular candidates who may only embrace most of your issues but not all. We see what the Tea Party is doing to mainstream Republicans. Democrats can, given half a chance, be as stupid. Let's be careful here folks.

It looks like Rehberg is going to run on the theme that Tester is too closely tied to Obama, whose popularity has waned somewhat in Montana, painting him as one more vote for the president's radical agenda.

And in an attempt to make popular long-time Democratic Senator Baucus into a liability, Rehberg has said:

If Obama is re-elected as president, my being in the Senate is a check and balance. You've already got Baucus. Do we need two senators voting the same way as this president, or do we need balance?

But if you think that's an interesting approach, try this one. According to local Montana press, Denny Rehberg was only one of four GOP congressmen to vote against Paul Ryan's budget proposal. The reason seems to be that the Medicare reform contained in it is just too toxic and, apparently, Rehberg is no fool. His exact words were that there are "too many unanswered questions with regard to Medicare reform," and that "things are being rushed through with little or no public comment."

Apparently 17% of Montanans are enrolled in Medicare, which is somewhat above the national average, but the state has the 7th oldest population in the country and those older folks do vote.

Yes, it will be an interesting race, probably as sensitive to national trends as anywhere. If the Democrats have any chance of holding onto the Senate, this would be a good one to keep. Well, okay, they'd all be good to keep.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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  • If the poll has a 4.65% margin of error then it could be Rehberg at 51% and 39% for Tester. That indicates a landslide victory for Rehberg. Typically people in the middle will swing to the leader with thier campaign money and their votes. Looks very much like Republicans win over the Senate and increase thier House margin in 2012.

    By Anonymous Forest Cooper, at 11:22 AM  

  • Dennis Rehberg is going to blow away Jon Tester. Actually, Jon Tester is not really running. It is the unions who control the strings that control Jon Tester. he is a puppet, a fat face with nothing behind it.
    The Truth - Montana

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:47 PM  

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