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Blog Home Page --> Governor -- Montana

Schweitzer, Baucus Look Safe

Two years after one of the closest Senate contests in the nation, polls conducted for one of Montana's top news agencies shows Governor Brian Schweitzer and Senator Max Baucus, both Democrats, are likely safe this coming November. Democrats don't get all the good news, though; the same survey showed Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg in good position to cruise to his fifth term.

The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon for Lee Newspapers, surveyed 625 likely voters between 5/19-21 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Schweitzer was matched up with State Senator Roy Brown, Baucus with State Rep. Mike Lange and and engineer Kirk Bushman, and Rehberg was paired with attorney Jim Hunt and 2006 libertarian candidate Mike Fellows.

General Election Matchup
Schweitzer....55
Brown............30

Baucus...........65
Lange.............26

Baucus...........61
Bushman........26

Rehberg.........52
Hunt................20
Fellows............5

The news for challengers is not good. Baucus' name identification is at 99%, while Rehberg, a two-time Lieutenant Governor who narrowly lost to Baucus in 1996, is known by 98% of Montanans. Schweitzer, meanwhile, is viewed favorably by 52% of the state's voters, while 22% see him unfavorably. Brown's favorable rating is at just 21%, while 15% see him unfavorably.

Montanans may be targeted by an initial advertising blitz from Barack Obama if the likely Democratic nominee thinks he can seriously expand the presidential playing field westward. Whether Montana voters will actually cast ballots for the Democratic presidential ticket remains to be seen, but if they don't, the Big Sky State will have to wait until junior Senator Jon Tester runs for re-election in 2012 to see an interesting contest.

MT Incumbents Safe

In a state that is likely to vote for John McCain over either Democratic candidate this Fall, two incumbent Democrats look increasingly likely to cruise to re-election. While Senator Max Baucus and Governor Brian Schweitzer never expected fierce challenges, their easy paths come in a state that, like Virginia and New Hampshire, have dealt increasingly severe blows to Republicans in recent years.

Baucus, who has served five terms in the Senate, has usually faced easy contests. The lone exception came in 1996, when he beat Republican Denny Rehberg by five points, or a little over 19,000 votes, despite outspending him by a three-to-one margin. Rehberg, now the state's sole member of the House, rebuffed GOP entreaties to run against Baucus this year.

In order to dissuade a challenge, Baucus built a massive war chest, banking nearly $6.3 million through the end of 2007, more than he spent in all of 2002, when he took 63% against a Republican who spent about $1.8 million on his own bid. When filing closed March 20, Baucus faced only a small handful of candidates, including State Rep. Mike Lange, the former House Majority Leader, the only serious candidate to jump in the race.

Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer has never won a race easily. He lost his first bid for public office, against then-Senator Conrad Burns in 2000, by a narrow four-point margin, before defeating Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown in the 2004 race for governor by a similar four-point margin, winning by 20,000 votes as President Bush carried the state by twenty points.

This year, Schweitzer and running mate John Bohlinger, a former Republican State Senator, are running for re-election against two potential Democratic tickets and two pairs of GOP hopefuls. After the June 3 primary, Schweitzer and Bohlinger are likely to face off with State Senator Roy Brown and businessman Steve Daines, the front-runners for the Republican nominations. The Schweitzer-led ticket has raised more than $1.2 million for the race so far, while Brown's team is far behind with just over $200,000 in the bank.

The two tickets will also face off against Libertarian Stan Jones, a business consultant who has run several times before, including taking more than 10,000 votes as Democrat Jon Tester beat Republican Senator Burns in 2006 by just 2,500 votes. Jones is known around his Bozeman home for his unusual blue skin, a result of a condition called argyria, which he got after charging silver wires in a glass of Bozeman tap water, as the Washington Post wrote in a Jones profile after 2006.

Montana was the one down-note for Democrats in 2006, as the party lost control of the State House while maintaining just a two-seat advantage in the State Senate. Democrats will be well-funded, though, thanks to an extended presidential nomination fight: Both Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are scheduled to be in Butte on April 5 for the state party's annual Mansfield-Metcalf dinner, ahead of the state's presidential primary, which also takes place June 3.

Safe Dems In Montana

First-term Governor Brian Schweitzer, oft-mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate at some point in his young political career, looks set to cruise to re-election, a new poll for the Billings Gazette showed last month. Schweitzer will appear on the ballot alongside fellow Democrat Max Baucus, the state's senior Senator, who also appears to be in good shape.

The poll, conducted 12/17-19 by the highly respected firm Mason-Dixon, quizzed 625 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Schweitzer and opponent State Senator Roy Brown along with Baucus and his opponent, State Representative Mike Lange, were tested.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Schweitzer 55 / 89 / 28 / 52 / 52 / 58
Brown 30 / 3 / 59 / 26 / 32 / 28

(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Baucus 63 / 90 / 38 / 63 / 62 / 64
Lange 25 / 5 / 49 / 19 / 28 / 22

Both incumbent Democrats are widely popular around the state. Baucus is viewed favorably by 57% of Montanans, while just 15% have an unfavorable opinion. Schweitzer is seen favorably by 54%, as 22% see him unfavorably. The state has been trending Democratic in recent years, electing Senator Jon Tester in 2006. Democrats control the State Senate, but in one of their few defeats last year lost control of the State House.

On a statewide level, Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg has not faced serious competition in years, though Secretary of State Brad Johnson is the only other member of the GOP elected statewide. Three other lower-ballot elected officials are all Democrats.