HELENA - Montana voters have given Gov. Brian Schweitzer the best job approval ratings among top statewide officeholders and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus the worst, in a new Lee Newspapers poll.

Those polled were asked to rate the job performance of top Montana politicians and President Barack Obama in one of four categories: "excellent," "pretty good," "only fair" or "poor." The "excellent" and "pretty good" scores generally are combined to provide a positive job-performance rating.

Schweitzer, a Democrat, had a 60 percent job performance rating, followed by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester at 50 percent and Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg at 48 percent.

Montanans gave President Barack Obama a 40 percent job approval rating.

Baucus was last at 38 percent. His job performance rating has plunged from 67 percent in the last Lee Newspapers poll in May 2009, when he led the pack.

Polls by other groups have shown that Baucus' job performance scores have fallen drastically since his role in passage of the federal health care reform law in 2009 and 2010. The Montana senator was a leading architect of that bill.

"Baucus really took it on the chin," pollster Brad Coker said. "Tester was just a vote (for the health reform law). Baucus was a ringleader. Nothing could have been done without him using his power and influence."

In the last Lee poll two years ago, Schweitzer had a 57 percent job performance rating, followed by Rehberg at 56 percent and Tester at

52 percent.

Here is a closer look at the job performance ratings in the latest poll, taken last week:

• Schweitzer: Women gave Schweitzer 61 percent positive job performance score, and men handed him 58 percent. Democrats gave the Democratic governor 87 percent, and Republicans gave him 38 percent. Independents gave him 59 percent.

• Tester: Women gave Tester a 58 percent positive job performance score, while men gave him a 41 percent mark. Tester received an 87 percent job performance rating from Democrats, 22 percent from Republicans and 38 percent from independents.

• Rehberg: Men gave Rehberg a 57 percent positive job performance score, while women gave him 40 percent. By party, Republicans handed him an 81 percent score, while Democrats gave him 12 percent and independents 43 percent.

• Obama: He fared considerably better with women than men in positive job performance scores. Women gave him 48 percent to men's 31 percent. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats gave the president a positive job performance score, while only 4 percent of Republicans did, while 38 percent of independents did.

• Baucus: Forty-nine percent of women gave Baucus a positive job performance score, while 26 percent of men did. He received a positive score from 71 percent of Democrats, 16 percent of Republicans and 34 percent of independents.

The poll was done for Lee Newspapers by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., from March 14-16. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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