091809 baucus health care
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., leaves his health care news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington this fall. Photo by HARRY HAMBURG/Associated Press

HELENA - U.S. Sen. Max Baucus' approval rating is taking a dip following a high-profile push for health care reform that found the Democrat taking heat from liberals and conservatives alike.

A Montana State University-Billings survey released Monday shows just 44 percent approve of the job performance from Montana's senior senator, down from 64 percent two years ago.

Approval ratings for the state's other major officeholders were largely unchanged in a poll that also showed big support for wolf hunts - and very little for legalizing marijuana.

Baucus has been at the epicenter of health reform talks in Washington D.C., using his chairmanship of a key committee to draft a middle-of-the-road plan that aimed for bipartisan support.

That left him facing protesters, from liberals who viewed Baucus' plan as a sellout to the insurance industry - and staunch criticism from conservatives who opposed all the reform plans.

The MSU-Billings Nov. 5 to Nov. 8 telephone survey of 414 has a margin of error of five percentage points.

Of those, 44 percent said they approved of Baucus, 40 percent disapproved and 16 percent were undecided.

A Baucus spokesman said the senator's decisions are not based on polls.

"Polls go up and polls go down. But legislating is about doing what's right not just for the moment, but for years and generations down the road," Ty Matsdorf said. "For thirty years, Max has done what's right for our state, he has governed based on principles not on politics, and developed a trust with people across Montana as their voice in the U.S. Senate."


Gov. Brian Schweitzer's approval rating came in at 62 percent, compared with 63 percent in the 2007 poll.

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U.S. Sen. Jon Tester was nearly unchanged as well - 56 percent approved of his job performance, compared with 57 percent two years ago.

The poll also asked about expanding wilderness area, a big piece of Tester's legislation that also mandates more logging and permanent recreation areas. The survey said 50 percent support more wilderness, 36 percent oppose and 14 percent are undecided.

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, the lone Republican of the group, held an approval rating of 54 percent, compared with 59 percent two years ago.

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Other poll results:

Montanans remain split on abortion issues. Forty-four percent support a proposed ballot initiative to define a person at the beginning of biological development, while 45 percent oppose it.

Just 24 percent supported expanded gambling on reservations.

Most, 54 percent, said grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park should be protected as an endangered species.

The new wolf hunts were supported by 75 percent.

Legalizing marijuana received support from just 25 percent.

The poll was led by political scientist Craig Wilson, along with professors Scott Rickard and Dan Lennon.


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