Montana Senate race: Will 'Obama drag' sink Tester?

2012-10-07T20:00:00Z 2012-10-27T20:17:39Z Montana Senate race: Will 'Obama drag' sink Tester?The Associated Press The Associated Press
October 07, 2012 8:00 pm  • 

HELENA — Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is hanging on in a brutal re-election battle in Montana despite a drag from President Barack Obama, who is poised to lose big in this sparsely populated, libertarian-minded state.

His opponent, Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, has been unable to pull ahead of the first-term senator after trying to tie him to Obama and the president's signature health care law. Victory probably lies in the dwindling ranks of undecided voters.

"In Montana, I know where Rep. Rehberg stands at, and I know where Sen. Tester stands at," said Great Falls retiree Dale Specht, a member of the roughly 6 percent of voters in the state who haven't settled on a candidate. "I am just trying to figure out who is going to do the best job for our state of Montana."

Both candidates have preached their independent credentials as outside spending bombards TV viewers across Montana's vast expanse with unprecedented waves of attack ads — nearly $12 million worth so far.

National Democratic Party groups, unions and Democratic-aligned super PACs, such as the Majority PAC, have spent slightly more than $7.3 million mainly on attack ads against Rehberg, the state's lone House member since 2001. The Karl Rove-founded Crossroads groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative campaign funding operations have spent $4.3 million on ads critical of Tester.

The race remains one of the half-dozen or so pure toss-ups that will determine whether Democrats continue to control the Senate or Republicans take it over.

Tester may well be helped by Montana's relatively low 6.3 percent unemployment rate. Booming oil fields in the eastern part of the state have blunted the recession's effect and taken some of the sting out of the GOP's national effort to blame family-level fiscal hardships on Obama and Democrats like Tester.

Montana has a rich history of ticket-splitting. In both 2004 and 2008, Montanans picked the Republican presidential candidate while electing a Democratic governor. The state legislature is now dominated by Republicans, but control has shifted back and forth over the past decade.

In some ways the race is reminiscent of 1996, when Rehberg nearly ousted Democratic Sen. Max Baucus from office over Baucus's fleeting support of gun control during Bill Clinton's presidency.

"The good news for Tester is that he has does have a real independent streak, particularly on a series of issues that are near and dear to the hearts of many Montanans," said University of Montana political scientist Robert Saldin. "But in this particular year, with this particular president at the top of the ticket, it's far from clear whether that will be enough."

Tester, 56, looks more like the grain farmer he is than a typical U.S. senator, and retains much of the everyman appeal that propelled him to a razor-close upset win in 2006 over three-term Republican incumbent Conrad Burns.

Tester says openly that if he loses he will be content to return to his relatively modest Big Sandy homestead to plow fields and fix equipment. He vowed in a recent interview with The Associated Press that he would never return to Washington as a lobbyist, as many ex-officeholders have.

However, Tester doesn't plan on losing. He is campaigning furiously with a more complex strategy. He recently held a weekend concert with Pearl Jam — bassist Jeff Ament is a friend from Big Sandy — at the University of Montana to rally his base.

"It doesn't matter what the polls say, it's going to be close," Tester said.

What he almost never mentions is Obama or his vote for the president's health care overhaul — though when asked, the senator says he wouldn't take it back.

Instead, Tester touts his independence on issues such as wolves, big business bailouts, energy development important in the booming oil fields in eastern Montana, and proposed administration agricultural rules considered laughable by many family farmers. He says his top issue after re-election would be to resuscitate a bipartisan balanced budget solution that has languished in Congress.

Tester also has been fighting Rehberg's attacks with plenty of his own, portraying the six-term congressman as a land developer — rather than a rancher — and a Washington insider with few accomplishments.

Tester blames Rehberg for failing to persuade the GOP-controlled House to pass a farm bill. He also accuses the Republican of taking lavish trips overseas on the taxpayers' tab and points to Rehberg being caught on tape saying he relies on lobbyists for his information.

As many voters hold negative views about Rehberg as Tester.

It didn't help Rehberg's case that late last year he had to drop a lawsuit he filed against his hometown's firefighters as political damage from it mounted. Three years ago, Rehberg, 57, also made headlines after he and staffers were seriously injured when a boat being operated by a GOP state senator crashed after a night of drinking.

Democrats also hope the Libertarian candidate on the ticket steals some anti-government conservative voters from Rehberg's side.

Rehberg, meanwhile, is sticking to his strategy of denouncing Obama administration policies and attacking Tester for backing many of them. Rehberg argues that Tester is not the independent-minded farmer the state thought it was going to get.

"It is the cumulative effect of all the taxes and regulations that are stifling businesses," Rehberg told campaign supporters at one Helena campaign stop, reinforcing his primary theme. "Government is not going to create the jobs. Montanans do."

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(18) Comments

  1. Bob Edwards
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    Bob Edwards - October 09, 2012 12:28 am
    @montanamuralist
    First, your rants in the Missoulian comments show you to be anything but independent. You are not fooling anyone.
    Second, you wrote the following: "Whether you agree with Obama or not, you can ot (I assume this was supposed to say 'not') disagree that it is wrong to not compromise." I understand you don't realize that it takes both sides and in fact both sides are guilty of a failure to compromise.
    Third, you wrote "You must agree it is wrong to allow corporations and big money to fund campaigns without accountability there fore (not two words) buying elections. Is that what you anti government (also not two words) or less government people think is proper??? To buy elections?" Allow me to point out a key paragraph from the article: "National Democratic Party groups, unions and Democratic-aligned super PACs, such as the Majority PAC, have spent slightly more than $7.3 million mainly on attack ads against Rehberg, the state's lone House member since 2001. The Karl Rove-founded Crossroads groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative campaign funding operations have spent $4.3 million on ads critical of Tester." Who is trying to buy the election? Allow me to do the math for you as you may not have a calculator available, which is $3 million more from political action committees being spent in support of Jon Tester.
  2. MontanaJim72
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    MontanaJim72 - October 08, 2012 2:09 am
    It's obvious Rehberg knows he can't beat Tester by taking him on one to one. Instead, he relies on the conservative leaning of Montana voters to do it for him. I really don't care that you don't like the President, Rehberg, but at least have some class and run against the person in office. You are running for a Senate seat, not president.
  3. mdstevens
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    mdstevens - October 07, 2012 11:58 pm
    This is simple the folks with enough common sense to vote for the president are also going to vote for Jon Tester. The interesting thing is how the Republicans are going to act on Nov. 5th. when they realize we've won (again). No brag, just fact,
  4. reality22f
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    reality22f - October 07, 2012 8:37 pm
    If those voters are considering the rider for wolves they need to remember that Tester has yet to sign on to the bill that would remove the gray wolf from consideration under the ESA. When he attached the rider the state was about to revolt, the Governor was telling the ranchers to SSS and people were spitting made. The environmental obstructionist knew they were in trouble and tried to get their pet Judge molloy to go back on his 8/5 ruling. Testers rider was the best case scenario for all the bad publicity of the environmental wackos. He did it for them (environmental radicals) not the Montana or (especially) American public! Right now we have 9 law suits in the works for wolves! The rider he put in could have put the issue to rest & allowed states to manage their wildlife appropriately.

    Colorado - suing for wolves in the Small Rocky Mountain National Park.

    New Mexico - suing because allowing chronic depredating wolves to do their thing is more important than protecting private property & running ranchers off their private land is high priority.

    Oregon - sue so they don't have to follow the Oregon Wolf Management Plan for removing chronic depredating wolves.

    Wisconsin - suing to severely limit any kind of control sportsman have and will need to effectively control these vermin.

    Wyoming - suing because they need to sulk for they didn't get there way AND because the state has the correct management strategy that the local people want all while hoping to get activist Judge molloy to hear their case.

    Maine (New England) region - suing because the oversized coyotes they have aren't good enough to replace what sportsman are doing effectively.

    Minnesota - suing just for the fun of it - and because 3000 wolves isn't enough and killing 200 of the vermin yearly on the governments dime isn't enough!

    Idaho / Montana - suing because laws from congress aren't good enough and they think they have a ("separation of powers") leg to stand on.

    Alaska - suing because they want to know every wolf that is managed via "Aerial" management.

    I don't know how they stand on all the issues, But If wolves and abuse of the ESA are the issue your concerned about. Send Tester PACKING
  5. bluepastry
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    bluepastry - October 07, 2012 6:21 pm
    I have lived in many states and have had many senators I have been happy and unhappy with. Tester is by far the worst US Senator I have evr had represent me. His employees do not solve problems, they ignore them, This guy does not have an original thought and if I knew better i would think he is afflicted with some sort of illness that prevents him from telling the truth. I think Obama will sink himself...As for tester , Tester also has sunk tester
  6. COMMON SENSE
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    COMMON SENSE - October 07, 2012 5:36 pm
    Tester is nothing more then a rank & file liberal and has voted as such, Rehberg has no respect for the law, Obama has sold our national soul to our greatest enemies and is guilty of treason a dozen times over, Romney is a dammed weak leader, and nobody in Congress can act as thought they are over the age of 7! Is it any wonder our country is falling apart? What ever happened to our great Presidents, Kennedy, FDR, Reagan, Truman, Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Eisenhower... Why are we settling for mediocrity in the White House and Congress? Is there really no one better left in this world? When you vote this time around your choices are A.) a criminal disgrace of an incumbent OR B.) a man who will bring to the White House all the personality of wallpaper paste. America, if your tired of being scre**d, STOP SCR****G YOURSELVES, put someone up there worth voting for!
  7. libertarian
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    libertarian - October 07, 2012 4:54 pm
    Let's face it both Rehberg and Tester have been good team players for President Bush and Obama. The only option for libertarian minded voters is Dan Cox (www.dancox4senate.com)
    Rehberg is a moderate and Tester is a liberal. It would have nice ton have None of the Above on the ballot for people who just hate the whole process, and can't stand to vote for any candidate. It would be nice to send both Rehberg and Tester back home.
  8. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - October 07, 2012 2:19 pm
    Tester has "pandered to the gun nuts"? Not when he voted to confirm two anti-gun U.S. Supreme Court Justices. But you have revealed yourself to be just another moron who believes one can pick and choose which Constitutional rights is valid. The right to keep and bear arms is at least as important as the right to freedom of speech.
  9. NoturAverageBear
    Report Abuse
    NoturAverageBear - October 07, 2012 1:06 pm
    The real problem is the republican fantasy world and their echo box that relentlessly repeat those fantasies. Without a truthful, honest, well informed, and politically active populous, we are doomed to have the kind of politics, social and economic inequality, and a poorer quality of life than is the American standard that we are now, and have been experiencing starting more than thirty years ago.

    Get a grip.
    Get informed.
    Be honest, and truthful.
    Get active.
    Or or we will loose even more of our living standards to the greedy!
  10. MyPointofView
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    MyPointofView - October 07, 2012 11:57 am
    and isn't it obvious Testers a yes man to big money Pac s #1 money recipent? that's not rep'en me
  11. MyPointofView
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    MyPointofView - October 07, 2012 11:55 am
    This is the first time ever I really DISLIKE both, clean sweep all emcumbants...TERM LIMITS
    are the only answer give them 2 terms and make them accountable...no lifetime severence and insureance I f your not really trying to serve your people get the heck out...
  12. sonofbrutalbob
    Report Abuse
    sonofbrutalbob - October 07, 2012 10:48 am
    Cannot vote for Tester, I need a candidate who is smart enough to not cut his own fingers off.
  13. Pistol
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    Pistol - October 07, 2012 9:26 am
    I too am an independent, the deciding factor in this election is Tester voted 95% with OBama. I gased up my subcompact yesterday, it holds 15 gallons it cost me over $54.00. In 2008 it cost me appromiately $28.00. OBamacare if it is implemented will cost some people their benefits. Why? Because companies will pay the fine/tax rather than continue paying benefits which cost them more than the fine/tax. Also a company with less than 50 employees isn't required to provide benefits, so why would a business expand? Coal is huge in Montana our out going governor ran on coal. OBama has hurt coal so bad that the coal unions reduced their donations to OBama from $180000. to zero. This is labor! Tester also voted for OBama's two weak liberal Supreme Court cabdidates. Most Montanans' I believe are moderates, not liberals.
  14. BWO
    Report Abuse
    BWO - October 07, 2012 8:11 am
    The sad truth is that Tester has run against and away from Obama. He has pandered to the gun nuts, the anti-science know-nothings, and has distanced himself from anyone being close to progressive in their thinking or politics. I don't know what Eddie Vedder is thinking. The unfortunate alternative is Rehberg, one of the laziest (thank goodness!), ill-informed, and unprepared government employee millionaires ever. Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS PAC is funding Rehberg's TV assault...that's all you need to know: Rove was the architect of the worst presidency in U.S. history, leaving a legacy of war and debt that has devastated lives here and abroad. Everyone involved is tainted.
  15. walter12
    Report Abuse
    walter12 - October 07, 2012 7:56 am
    Tester is and has been a loyal and good lackey and stooge for this Obama for the last four years. Outside of the famous old town Missoula leftists enclave, many people do not like this fact about Tester. Many people in the State do not like this Obama. It is that simple.
  16. walter12
    Report Abuse
    walter12 - October 07, 2012 7:50 am
    Outside of the old town Missoula leftist enclave, many people do not like Tester because he has been a loyal and true lackey and stooge for Obama. These same people do not like Obama. It really is that simple.
  17. montanamuralist
    Report Abuse
    montanamuralist - October 07, 2012 7:38 am
    For those of us who are true independents, the choice is clear this time around as I see it. The talk about socialism by the far right Republican Party is ridiculous. Obstructing jobs bills, which Rehberg agreed with, in fact obstructing any bill from the Obama Administration in the midst of the worst recession and economic crisis faced by this nation since the Depression was appalling and un-American. Yet these right wingers come on here and scream about "socialism". Yet they do not scream about the jobs shipped overseas to avoid the unions, who while a dinosaur in the big picture of things, still try to at least get workers a wage that they can live on. Instead it is all about profit for Republicans and class warfare. That is not a partisan statement. Just the way it is no matter what party you belong to. The idea that Rehberg now wants us to believe he will quit kissing the back sides of those who obstruct and refuse to compromise is ridiculous. Whether you agree with Obama or not, you can ot disagree that it is wrong to not compromise. You must agree it is wrong to allow corporations and big money to fund campaigns without accountability there fore buying elections. Is that what you anti government or less government people think is proper??? To buy elections? Now they want your Social Security. And you know what? You keep voting for people like Rehberg, they will get it. You can't afford health care but these right wingers want you to die in the street anyway. No, they do not care about you. They care about their own interest and their own class and as soon as the middle class in this state gets their heads out of their behinds and realizes that..we will all start seeing some improvement. No question this time for me..Tester is the only choice....and hoping we send Rehberg packing once and for all.....
  18. HeyArnold
    Report Abuse
    HeyArnold - October 07, 2012 7:32 am
    Nice hit piece on Rehberg under the guise of "reporting". Fact is, Tester is 3 points behind and has been through most of the race. No fan of Denny, but John is a real coward. First, won't even mention his vote for Obamacare in his ads; and second, runs an ad saying how much he stood up to the Obama administration (despite his overwhelming number of votes for their agenda). Vote how you want, but don't mislead folks on your voting record. that's all we ask.
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