Montana In Play



A new Public Policy Polling survey previews a tight race evolving in the Montana open-seat race. Those eventually becoming candidates will vie for the right to succeed Sen. Max Baucus (D), who is retiring after what will be 40 years in Congress.

The new data seems to poke holes in the prognostication that former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) would run away with the open-seat race should he decide to run. Other potential candidates have been hanging back awaiting his decision, but the former governor humorously quipped last week that it might be some time before he ultimately decides his 2014 plans.

Referring to his occupation as a soil scientist, Schweitzer said to a local news reporter, “…the most important thing a soil scientist has an understanding of is time-glacial time … I look at a mountain and I’m able to visualize how that mountain was created over 6 million years. You’re a journalist. You read time as next week, tomorrow. I think of time geologically. When you see me say ‘soon’ you may be thinking days — but I think of time in millions of years sometimes.” Thus, it appears his answer won’t be coming any time soon.

According to the PPP poll, Schweitzer would actually trail former Republican Gov. Marc Racicot (46-47 percent) even though the Democrat’s favorability index is much higher. Schweitzer scores 54:40 percent favorable to unfavorable, while Racicot only posts 43:37 percent, yet Racicot clings to a small lead.

Considering that Racicot is not likely to run, how does Schweitzer do against a more probable candidate? Paired with at-large Rep. Steve Daines (R), a freshman who ran strong in his first statewide campaign, Schweitzer only posts a 48-45 percent advantage — a much smaller margin than one would have expected immediately upon Sen. Baucus announcing that he wouldn’t run again.

Against two lesser candidates who are officially running, former state Senate Minority Leader Corey Stapleton (R) and state Rep. Champ Edmunds (R), Schweitzer cruises. Against each, the former governor scores almost identical 52-38 percent and 52-37 percent spreads, respectively.

On the GOP side, Daines fares well against two Democrats likely to run if the ex-governor does not. Paired with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, Daines would have a 48-38 percent advantage. Against state Auditor Monica Lindeen, he would register a similar 49-37 percent.

Right now, the potential field of Montana Senate candidates seems as bogged down as any campaign in the country. All eyes have been on the Democratic ex-governor, waiting for him to make a move, but polling like this PPP survey may well encourage others to move forward with their plans irrespective of whether Schweitzer may or may not run.

Should Schweitzer make a decision not to run before the “millions of years” time frame to which he comically alluded last week, expect a free-for-all to begin among a number of candidates in both parties.

Should he decide to enter the race, the PPP data tells us that a competitive campaign will ensue. Only time will tell, but a “toss-up” rating in the Montana Senate race is not out of the question, even with Schweitzer in the race. In order to capture the Senate majority from the Democrats, Montana becomes a must-win race for the GOP. Conversely, holding this seat would go a long way to keeping the Democrats in power.

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