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Big Sky Showdown

HELENA, MT - NOVEMBER 03: (L-R) Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Tester and his wife Sharla Tester applaud during a campaign rally the Montana State Capitol November 3, 2006 in Helena, Montana. With less than a week before Mid-term elections, Tester, a third generation Montana farmer who grows organic crops, a former school teacher, and president of the Montana state Senate, is in a tight race with incumbent U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT).
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar
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Josh Kraushaar
Oct. 3, 2013, 7:40 a.m.

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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