Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

Montana Senate Race Remains Close

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As Montana Senator John Tester campaigns for re-election against Representative Denny Rehberg, the battle is coming down to who can claim more authentic roots in Montana.

Distancing themselves from the elite and Washington insiders is the priority for both candidates as they seek to connect to voters.  As the race comes to a close, Tester and Rehberg only differ less than three- tenths of a point in Real Clear Politics polling averages.

In 2006, Tester defeated the incumbent Senator Conrad Burns, amongst growing disapproval of President Bush. The race stands as the closest Senate election in terms of votes.

As the race comes to an end, every bit of momentum matters for each candidate.

According to The Hill, the debate held in October became very personal, “Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) questioned Rep. Denny Rehberg’s (R-Mont.) morals in a testy Monday night debate, ripping the congressman for suing the city of Billings’s fire department and for being a lobbyist.”

The intensity of the debates reflects the national importance of this race. This race remains of extreme importance to the and the out of state interest proves just how impactful both parties, especially the GOP, view this to be. According to FOX news, Republicans are hoping for at least four seats to gain control of the Republicans need a net gain of four seats — three if GOP candidate Mitt Romney wins the presidency, because his vice president could break a tie vote — to regain control.”

While Montanans may not be entirely sure who will win this race, there approval ratings for both candidates tell a convincing story.According to Public Policy Polling, residents are not enamored with the job Tester has done, but don’t seem to warm to Rehberg more either, “Montanans aren’t thrilled with the job Tester is doing. 42% approve while 50% disapprove. The reason he has a slight advantage at this point is that they like Rehberg even less. He has only a 41% approval rating with 52% of voters disapproving of him.”

While recent polls show that Romney will win big in Montana, this does not seem to be giving Rehberg the momentum he needs to claim victory on Election Day. Romney recently appeared in an ad for Rehberg saying, “The stakes are high, Montana. I urge you to send Denny to the Senate and we’ll get America back on track.”

Both parties see the value in a win in this race. According to OpenSecrets, “ Party committees have invested heavily in the race, with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee kicking in $3.6 million (its fifth-highest amount) and the Republican Senatorial Committee spending $3 million (its third-highest outlay).”

The Missoulian reported that the Rehberg campaign strategy is to link Obama and Tester as many times as possible, “’They know they don’t like President Obama’s policies, and we feel confident that once they learn that Tester votes with Obama 95 percent of the time we will end up getting the majority of those undecided voters,” said campaign manager Erik Iverson.’”

While the race remains close, the Tester campaign may have just been given an unexpected gift. Yesterday, Montana judges ordered the release of investigative records of a case involving Rehberg and former State Senator Greg Barkus. Today the Missoulian reported, Barkus crashed his boat on Flathead Lake’s rocky shores after a night of drinking on Aug. 27, 2009, injuring his four passengers. Also on board were Rehberg, the wife of Barkus, and two Rehberg staffers, one of whom was in a coma for 10 days.”

The Tester campaign is using this as momentum for calling Rehberg’s character into question. His website released a report today detailing particular aspects of the boat incident. The statement reads:

“This report raises more questions about Congressman Rehberg’s gross failure of accountability and his dishonesty with Montanans about what truly happened that night.  Congressman Rehberg wants us to believe there were ‘no signs of impairment,’ but these records indicate a much different story about a night of heavy drinking.  More importantly, Congressman Rehberg made a decision to put his two young staffers on a boat with a driver who was obviously and severely drunk—a decision that changed lives forever.  That kind of personal irresponsibility has no place in Congress.

While the impact of the report’s release is not known, this development will surely cause a stir among Montana voters.

Among concerns to Montana voters include healthcare which Tester is trying to distance himself from according to Fox News. In addition, Tester also is pushing for the Keystone XL oil pipeline that runs from the Canadian oil fields south through Montana.

This race reflects the importance of each campaign on a national stage and the impact that the presidential race has on a local level.


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