Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) will officially announce his challenge to first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) this coming weekend in what will become one of the nation’s top statewide campaigns. In 2006, Tester unseated three-term Sen. Conrad Burns (R), in a strong Democratic year running against a scandal-tainted incumbent. Burns was scrutinized by the Justice Department as part of its exhaustive Abramoff lobbying scandal investigation. Soon after the election, the defeated Senator received a DOJ letter fully clearing him of any wrongdoing. Tester won the election by seven-tenths of one percentage point, or 2,847 votes, one of the closest results in the nation.
Rehberg originally won the at-large House seat in 2000. He had previously served as the state’s lieutenant governor and won three elections to the Montana House of Representatives. The congressman begins his challenge with more than $500,000 in the bank, according to his just-released year-end disclosure statement. Sen. Tester reported just under $503,000 cash-on-hand at the end of September. In a race with major national implications, money will be no object for either candidate, particularly when campaigning before such a small electorate.
Along with his pre-announcement indication that he would run for the Senate, Rep. Rehberg also released the results of his internal statewide poll. The Opinion Diagnostics study was conducted of 400 Montana registered voters on Jan. 5, and gave the Republican congressman a 49-43% advantage over the Democratic senator. Count on this being a difficult election. Rehberg feels the presidential year helps him, but Pres. Obama was competitive in Montana during the 2008 campaign. John McCain ended up carrying the state, but barely, 49-47%. Rate this campaign as an early cycle toss-up.
Connecticut: The open Connecticut Senate race is already turning into a mad dash for the finish even though we are more than a year from crowning a winner. As in Texas among the Republicans, the new senator will be determined in the Democratic primary, but an intra-party war is about to commence. With Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz already officially running, it appears that Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) is also making decided moves to join the field of senatorial candidates. To make matters even more interesting, Ted Kennedy, Jr., son of the late Massachusetts Senator, is making public appearances in Connecticut.
Nebraska: A new Public Policy Polling survey (Jan. 26-27; 977 registered Nebraska voters) is confirming a mid-December Magellan Strategies poll that reveals Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is in deep political trouble. According to the data, Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) enjoys a 50-39% advantage over Sen. Nelson. State Treasurer Don Stenberg leads by four points, 45-41%. These numbers are similar to the Magellan findings, suggesting that Nelson’s situation continues to lag without improvement. Along with the open North Dakota seat, Nebraska continues to be one of the GOP’s best national conversion opportunities.
Arizona: Not yet quelling retirement rumors, Sen. Jon Kyl (R) says he will announce whether or not he will seek a fourth term in mid-February. Kyl has not been running his traditionally aggressive pre-election fundraising operation, causing some to speculate that he may be leaning toward retirement. Democrats would immediately contest Arizona in an open seat situation, as the state is continues to stray to the political middle. Depending upon candidates, this race will probably start in the toss-up column.
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