If the government shutdown has an adverse impact on Republicans’ efforts at retaking the Senate, one race where the impact would be felt is Montana. Democrats landed an untested but potentially compelling recruit in Lt. Gov. John Walsh, a military veteran and fourth-generation Montanan.
— Montana amounts to a must-win for Republicans, and when former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) passed on the race, many thought the race was in the bag for them. But the state has been inhospitable for GOP Senate candidates lately, with Democrats winning 19 of the last 23 races. And on paper, the likely matchup against Rep. Steve Daines (R) provides some opportunities for Dems.
— Dems plan to portray Daines as a Washington insider responsible for the Washington gridlock. They view Daines, like Rick Berg last year in neighboring North Dakota, as a weaker candidate than his resume indicates. Daines spent most of his career outside politics as a businessman, but the Congressional label is toxic these days.
— Across the board, the GOP underperformed in Montana last year. Mitt Romney won 55% of the vote, but MT GOV nominee Rick Hill (R) ran 8 points behind, and MT SEN nominee, then-Rep. Denny Rehberg, only carried 45%. Even Daines won just 53% for the open seat. This despite running against the president and his unpopular health care law.
In a libertarian state skeptical of government, Republicans should be able to exploit Obama’s weaknesses on the economy, spending and health care. But with the GOP’s image so poor and a spotty track record in Montana, that’s far from a guarantee.
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