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Montana voters send Democrat Baucus back to U.S. Senate

Montana voters send Democrat Baucus back to U.S. Senate

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WASHINGTON - Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana defeated little-known opponent Bob Kelleher on Tuesday to win his sixth term in the U.S. Senate.

The call was based on an analysis of voter interviews, conducted for the Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

Baucus has been in the Senate for 30 years and serves as chairman of the Senate's top tax-writing committee. Kelleher is a perennial candidate who was the surprise winner of the GOP primary. He had previously campaigned both as a Democrat and a Green Party candidate.

The state GOP distanced itself from Kelleher, and the candidate raised little money.

Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana's only member of the U.S. House, was also up for re-election. He faced Democrat John Driscoll, a former state lawmaker who spent years in the National Guard.

In the U.S. Senate race, Baucus benefited from his opponent's lack of political experience. Kelleher had run for various offices at least 16 times over the last four decades, losing in the primary for such seats ranging from governor to U.S. Senate.

More recently Kelleher turned to the Republican Party, shocking almost everyone when he emerged from a crowded primary field in June and won with less than a third of a splintered vote.

Still, Kelleher garnered some votes from party faithful.

Helena voter Kirk Nelson, 54, said he backed Kelleher simply because he was worried Democrats would take control of Congress and the White House.

"It's not that Baucus is a bad guy, because he isn't," Nelson said. "But I am seeing the deck stacked for Democrats."

Rehberg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, was running for his fifth two-year term. During the campaign, Driscoll promised not to spend any money and refused to accept donations.

Driscoll said in an October debate that he would vote for Rehberg, after the congressman voted against the federal bailout.

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