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Blog Home Page --> Senate -- Montana

Poll: Montana Dems Want Public Option

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Montana Sen. Max Baucus (D) has held up movement on a health care reform bill, and a new poll in Montana finds a majority of Democrats disapproving of his actions.

A Daily Kos poll (Aug. 17-19, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%), conducted by Research 2000, found more Republicans (49%) than Democrats (34%) approving of his actions on health care. Baucus hasn't said whether he'll push for a public option to be included in the Senate bill, though 78% of Montana Democrats are in favor of it. Overall, 47% of Montanans favor a public option and 43% oppose it.

If Baucus comes out against a public option, 36% of Democrats said they would be less likely to vote for him; 12% would be more likely and 52% said it would have no effect. For Republicans, 23% said they'd be more likely to vote for him if he opposed it, with 69% saying it would have no effect.

The liberal DailyKos queried respondents on how they'd vote if Baucus joined Republicans to help filibuster a health care bill that included a public option (44% of Democrats would be less likely to vote for him); also noted was that he'd received nearly $4 million in campaign donations from the health care industry (73% of Democrats said it hurt his judgement when voting on a health care bill).

Of course, the 67-year-old Baucus isn't up for re-election for another five years. In 2008, he was re-elected with 73% of the vote. Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) was re-elected with 65%, and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R), the state's lone congressman, was re-elected to a fifth term with 64%.

John McCain carried the state by 3 points last year, and President Obama now has a negative favorability rating -- 44% view him favorably and 52% unfavorably.

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.

Two Sens Up With Ads

It may be early, but two incumbent senators seeking re-election are already up with television ads aiming to bolster their already-strong chances at another six years in office. Senator Max Baucus, the conservative Montana Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham, the moderate South Carolina Republican, have debuted two very different spots, and for very different reasons.

For Baucus, the math is simple: Avoid a strong challenger. The five-term senator has faced only one very strong challenge, from now-Rep. Denny Rehberg in 1996, when he took 50% to the Republican's 45%. In other years, Baucus has not slipped below 65%. National Republicans went to Rehberg urging him to run again this year, but he refused.

Baucus is now up with an ad featuring two Republicans, one the former head of the Montana Hospital Association, and a registered nurse, all of whom testify to Baucus' power in Washington and his connection to his home state. The ad, produced by Democratic powerhouse GMMB, is intended to remind Montanans that unlike Conrad Burns, Baucus' colleague until 2006, the Democrat has not lost touch with his roots.

Graham is facing the threat of a primary challenge from Republicans angry with his more moderate positions on immigration and for his role in the so-called "Gang of 14," the group of Senators who helped break an impasse over judicial confirmations. RNC committeeman Buddy Witherspoon has already launched a challenge, and though Graham has a financial and political advantage, he's not taking any chances.

In order to shore up his conservative credentials, Graham is turning to the one person least likely to be seen in GOP television spots as November approaches. "I'm proud to stand with Senator Lindsey Graham. He bases his votes on conservative principles," President Bush says, praising Graham's work on confirming Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

The ad, produced by Scott Howell & Co., is at once a reminder of Bush's remaining relevance and what could be his swan song in political spots. Ahead of the June GOP primary, Graham wants help from a face party regulars recognize and still love. And though he is known as one of John McCain's strongest allies, Graham turned instead to the president to get the job done. Come November, it will be McCain's face that replaces Bush's in many GOP Senate ads.