HELENA – Republican Steve Daines has an 8-point lead over Democrat Kim Gillan in the race for Montana’s open U.S. House seat, a Lee Newspapers poll shows – but the poll also reveals that big chunks of voters don’t recognize the name of either candidate.

Of those surveyed by the poll earlier this week, 46 percent said they’re voting for Daines and 38 percent said they favor Gillan. Two percent said they would vote for Libertarian Dave Kaiser of Victor and 14 percent are undecided.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C., conducted the poll for Lee Newspapers, surveying 625 registered and likely Montana voters by telephone earlier this week. The poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Daines, 50, is a former business executive from Bozeman who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor four years ago.

Gillan, 60, a workforce training coordinator and state senator from Billings, is making her first run for statewide office.

Daines, Gillan and Kaiser are vying for Montana’s only U.S. House seat, which is being vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, who’s running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Jon Tester.

The Senate contest between Tester and Rehberg and the race for Montana’s open governor’s seat have been grabbing most of the headlines this election season, while the U.S. House race has been flying largely under the radar.

The poll results reflected that lack of publicity for the U.S. House race, as 49 percent of those polled said they didn’t recognize Gillan’s name and 28 percent said they didn’t recognize Daines.

Interviews with voters who were polled confirmed that the candidates are a blank slate, as far as many voters are concerned.

“It’s something I haven’t really heard a whole lot about; I’m still kind of ambivalent about that one,” said Lorraine Johnson, a retiree from Plentywood. “I’d kind of like to hear what they’re standing for.”

Several voters interviewed said they’d be deciding the race based on party affiliation.

“I haven’t paid much attention to that race, but I know I’m going to vote Democrat,” said Julie Buckley of Butte. “I’m extremely old-fashioned, and I would rather slit my throat than vote Republican.”

Carol Finnicum of Joliet said she’d be voting for Gillan, because “I just feel that she has the interest of people like me, particularly as a woman, in her interest.”

On the other side, Gary Rose of Kalispell said he thinks Daines is “the better-qualified candidate, and, philosophically, I prefer his positions.”

Daines enjoys a considerable financial edge in the race, for he had 10 times the money in his campaign fund as did Gillan in midsummer. He had about $850,000 compared with her $88,000.

Gillan rolled out her first TV ad a few weeks ago, but the Daines campaign put up two of its own ads as well, and said it planned to be on the air with advertisements through Election Day.

One of the few bright spots for Gillan in the poll results was her support among women – they gave her a slight edge, at 45 percent to 43 percent. Independents, however, favored Daines by a 15-point margin, and men who were polled favored Daines by a 19-point margin.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at mike.dennison@lee.net.

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