MT-Sen: Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) Reportedly to Challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D)

If true, this is going to be a titanic clash:

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) will announce Saturday he is challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

“It’s happening Saturday,” said a knowledgeable Montana GOP political operative. “He’s running. There is a lot of support and enthusiasm back home, and Denny knows he can win.”

And some internal polling, including a weird three-way matchup:

The operative offered some internal Rehberg polling numbers showing the Montana Republican in a statistical tie with Tester in a prospective 2012 matchup.

The Opinion Diagnostics survey of 400 likely Montana voters showed 49 percent backing Rehberg compared with 43 percent for Tester and 8 percent undecided. In a three-way matchup featuring Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer running as an independent, Rehberg led 44 percent to Tester’s 28 percent and Schweitzer’s 18 percent. Eleven percent were undecided.

The poll, conducted Jan. 5, has a margin of error of 4.65 percent.

SSP is on the verge of publishing our senate race ratings, and internally, we’d already agreed that MT-Sen was a Tossup prior to this announcement. This news confirms our view that this race will definitely start life as a Tossup.

70 thoughts on “MT-Sen: Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) Reportedly to Challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D)”

  1. It’s barely February, and the GOP already has three races that should initially rank, at worst for them, as toss-ups: North Dakota, Nebraska, and now Montana. That puts sure-to-be-competitive races like VA, MO, OH, and MI on the second tier, somehow.

    It seems the GOP is carrying momentum from the 2010 races, but remember that, in the early going of last cycle, Dems thought they were in a good position and the first four developments of the cycle were GOP retirements in swing states (FL, OH, MO, and NH). It’ll be somewhat different this time since Presidential years tend to regress toward the mean (that is, little change), rather than be a wave year, but nonetheless.

  2. any chance of a Teabagger making trouble for Rehberg?

    I know two candidates tried to oust in him a primary last June. They didn’t really come close, but you have to wonder if they will be a little more focused this time should they want to try to prevent him from getting the nomination.  

  3. This is clearly a nice recruiting job by Cornyn and Company. This is going to be a very tough race but certainly not an impossible race to win. Tester has a persona that goes over very well with people from Montana and his background as a farmer clearly contrasts most Senators (and Rehberg). This will be Rehberg’s first real race in many cycles and potentially the most “damaging” things to him are that he is suing the city of Billings fire department for not “stopping the fire on his property”. Guess he is not the only MT GOPer who isn’t after the Firemen’s votes (for those who don’t remember Conrad Burns told the fire department that they did a piss poor job in containing a wildfire; at the airport; while we running a tight re-election race):

    He was also involved in a boating accident where his friend was charged with a DUI:


    It is going to be a very tough and likely nasty race. Unlike Kos this Latino is very happy to support Tester even though I was disappointed with his Dream Act vote.  

  4. The Missoula Independent had a geat article ‘Schweitzer’s last stand,’ http://missoulanews.bigskypres

    that disgusses the comming 2011 legislative session and the issues facing Montana.  Perhaps most significant to this conversation are the comments concerning oil, gas,coal and the environment.  Schweitzer has really changed his tune on energy issues in Montana and it just might make him look like a great independent candidate.

  5. The Missoula Independent had a geat article ‘Schweitzer’s last stand,’ http://missoulanews.bigskypres

    that discusses the comming 2011 legislative session and the issues facing Montana.  Perhaps most significant to this conversation are the comments concerning oil, gas,coal and the environment.  Schweitzer has really changed his tune on energy issues in Montana and it just might make him look like a great independent candidate.

  6. in North Dakota. We can’t afford to cede that state if we have an uphill climb in Montana. Hopefully Murray is working the mackdown on the Pomeroy’s and Heitkamp’s of the world.

  7. First, the great news is that this gives Democrats a great opportunity to win Montana’s congressional seat. Already, Bozeman legislator Franke Wilmer has announced. She’d be the first female elected to congress since Jeanette Rankin. Of particular interest is how she announced. She had the news broken on Twitter by Ellie Hill. Is is a Missoula legislator, progressive hero, long-time netroots, Young Dems National VP. Pretty awesome first endorsement and way to get her name out there.

    Second, there may be no candidate in the country who an oppo-guy would rather face than Denny Rehberg. The ads against him could rival the famous Gay Hairdresser ad that re-elected Baucus by getting the Republican to suspend his campaign in 2002.

    One thing is for sure, with Schweitzer termed and the cascade of open seats, this will be the biggest election cycle in Montana since the epic ’92 year when two sitting members faced off for the consolidated lone congressional seat while Dems nominated a woman for Governor.  

  8. We may finally be free of Rehberg, but the cool thing from a swing state perspective now is the Senate seat, the House seat, the Gov and the Prez races are all more or less tossups.  The state could be swept either way, which should lead to both sides putting a lot of money into the state.

    In a perfect swing state world, Schweitzer would run for the House as a preliminary to going after Baucus’ seat, which would likely lead to strong candidates running in all six of the top gov/sen/house slots.  Could be the most fascinating state of the cycle.

  9. Schweitzer is hugely popular and cleaned up in 2008 with a 32 point margin.  Has he announced any plans?  He is term limited for governor.

  10. which I don’t believe, someone like State Rep. Franke Wilmer or State Sen. Kim Gillan. On the GOP side, former Lt.Gov loser and rich dude Steve Daines.

  11. It’s been ages since Rehberg ran a real race, and I’ve heard from my Montanan friend, (who was formerly a page), that Rehberg has a bit of a reputation for drinking which could turn into an issue if he does something irresponsible.  

  12. Burns told off firefighters from Virginia who couldn’t vote for him anyway. The people Rehberg is pissing off are actually registered Montana voters. It’s like Rehberg is like a “mini me” Conrad Burns, only stupider.

    Of course, stupid plays well in Montana (trust me, I lived there) – Burns got votes because a large portion of the electorate found his “crazy uncle Charley” persona to be absolutely hilarious. Thing is, while Rehberg has been doing the “I’m just a good cowpoke” routine successfully for 10 years now, he doesn’t really seem to have even the basic level of political savvy that Burns had. Burns knew full well what he could get away with, and still lost by less than 1 point in a Democratic year. Rehberg hasn’t run a real race since 2000, and Montana (especially western Montana) is arguably a lot bluer now than it was then.

    Tester’s party affiliation and the fact that he’s running with Obama at the top of the ballot are going to hurt him, but as you note, he’s got a great background as a farmer and a good folksy persona, both of which count for a lot. He can win, especially if Rehberg implodes, but it’s going to be close.

    Bottom line: unless Rehberg seriously shoots his own feet off (which is a distinct possibility, this being Rehberg), Tester will have to distance himself from Obama, Baucus, HCR, and out of state liberal activists as much as possible to have a prayer. If he does that, he should win. If Rehberg succeeds in defining him as a San Francisco-funded liberal (as Burns almost did in 2006), he’s toast. Ironically, I think Rehberg being in this race might actually be Tester’s best chance to get re-elected this year, despite his perceived strength on paper.  

  13. Their better options are getting home:

    NE-Sen: D Heinemann

    ND-Sen: E Schafer

    MT-Sen: M Racicot (not confirmed but likely out)

    FL-Sen: J Bush

    MO-Sen: J Talent

    OH-Sen: M DeWine

    WV-Sen: S Moore Capito

    The alone running is:

    VA-Sen: G Allen

    Still, they have some competitive candidate, like D Rehberg, but I’m not impressed by the republican recruitment for 2012.

  14. No one at this point in 2009 expected the GOP to do so well in 2010. So on the flip side, I suspect it’s quite premature to expect another blockbuster GOP year in 2012. Obama’s poll numbers are already back on the rise, and if he can turn out tons of Democrats in Montana (even if he just misses the mark again), it may be enough for Tester to survive.

  15. a few more wave cycles. This country is in a period of extreme polarization. A different circumstance then the past 60 years.  

  16. But in a state where even the non-rednecks occasionally drive drunk, it’s not the kind of issue that it would be in most other places. Booze is a way of life in Montana.  

  17. As Tester won’t want to piss off those Obama voters too much, but at the same time he will need to appeal to those not-so-hard-right Republicans and GOP-leaning Independents to split the ticket for him. And if what you’re saying is correct about Rehberg essentially being a “paper tiger”, then perhaps Tester has a better shot at reelection than many in DC think.

  18. at the top of the ticket going to hurt him so much if the state is bluer than it was in the past? I get that this might make the difference in a very, very close race, but I’m kind of the mindset that this is already factored in to the race and that anyone who is absolutely, positively dead seat against Obama and Tester as well as Democrats in general can’t wait to vote against them.  

  19. Bruning is a top tier candidate; I don’t see much difference between him and Heinemann, except more desire to go to Washington.

    We don’t know yet who will enter the race in North Dakota, but that likely won’t even need a top recruit.

    Both Rehberg and Racicot are top tier candidates; getting one or the other is good. Getting both or neither is bad. They did good.

    There are a handful of solid candidates in Florida. It seems odd to put the bar as high as someone like Jeb Bush, who’s never expressed any interest in running for the Senate.

    We don’t know yet who will enter the race in Missouri. While Talent would be strong, a Congressman (Graves/Emerson) or a statewide elected (Steelman) are also top tier candidates.

    I disagree that Mike DeWine is the best option in Ohio, since he already ran and lost. There’s still plenty of time for a top-tier candidate to emerge.

    I’ll give you Capito.

    You don’t need to hit a grand slam with every recruit to win, and missing out on the grand slams (especially some of the extreme long shot candidates you mentioned) doesn’t mean a bad job of recruiting.

  20. The Las Vegas Sun had an interesting story on John Ensign this morning. In this case, the NRSC’s best shot at holding NV-Sen is to convince Dean Heller to primary Ensign. And while the two clearly don’t like each other, it’s still no sure thing that Heller jumps in. And even if he does do it, will the NRSC really be able to convince the guy who used to run that very organization that he jump out of the race? And can they ever contain Sharron Angle’s crazy ambition?

    Anyway, getting back to the big picture, the GOP benefitted last year from a favorable environment and loads of spending from “Tea Party, Inc.” 527s. It remains to be seen if “momentum” and (outside) money can do th trick for them in a Presidential year.

  21. In fact, he probably isn’t. He’ll be 66 in 2012, and hasn’t run for an office in ND in 16 years (come 2012).

    Rick Berg is the strongest.

  22. He can say “look at how useless DC is” and be speaking Montanans’ language. Given how well he ran his 2006 campaign, I think he’ll be a lot stronger in the long run than Rehberg, especially given that states with a small population tend to track things like the Billings FD lawsuit a lot more closely. And unlike in rural northeastern states like Vermont and Maine where the local media is truly useless, you can expect a lot of the major papers in MT to be covering stuff like this. I remember when Rehberg and Greg Barkus had the whole “boat crash DUI” thing, it was in the Missoulian (biggest paper in WESTERN MT) for months afterward.

    It’s like this: Montanans know how much of a douchenozzle Rehberg is, just as they knew how much of a douchenozzle Conrad Burns was. They’re just going to keep re-electing him anyway because he’s the incumbent and he’s a Republican. If Tester’s seat were open, Rehberg would probably win it easily. As it is, I’m not as concerned about Tester as I am about some of the races that no one is really paying attention to yet (such as OH, MO, PA, MI, and FL). In many ways, his re-election campaign will HAVE to embody the hardscrabble Montana work ethic, which puts him in a great position to portray Rehberg as a grifting backbencher made soft by Washington. Tester isn’t going to be caught napping regardless.  

  23. I can’t think of one incumbent besides Feingold that lost last year. Virtually all of the seats that the Republicans won were open seats. Along with all of the factors that you listed, that certainly had to help.

  24. While we’ll never know for sure if the incumbents in those lost seats would have done better, there definitely is a strength in incumbency (even in an “anti-incumbent” year like 2010) that shouldn’t be discounted.

    Now that Tester has had a chance to prove himself, his incumbency may end up working to his advantage next year, especially if he can find a way to bring home some good bacon. Remember that while we (Mountain) Westerners like to call ourselves “libertarian”, we love us some government spending just as much as the rest of y’all. (And if you don’t believe me, take another look at the final 2010 NV-Sen results.)

  25. I know most Dems hated her but I always thought it was kinda cool that Arkansas had a slightly liberal (before Obama was elected) female senator. She was also featured in this documentary 14 Women. I also ran into her a couple times on the Hill. No one can deny that she was one of the nicest senators.

  26. Of course, maybe I just forgot about her since her loss seemed so assured so many months before the election even took place.  

  27. Tester 50-40

    Rehberg 49-37

    Schweitzer 55-33

    Baucus 38-53

    Looks like a true coin toss but with an early edge to the challenger because of the state.

  28. a chance for him to bring lots of voters to the polls. Despite the unusual amount of attention placed on the state in 2008 compared to other years, I’d be surprised if the Democrats were anywhere close to being tapped out. They might not have that much room to grow–it’s a fairly small state, after all–but I’d almost certainly rather be them when it comes to expanding the party in that state than be the Republicans.  

  29. are a little bit more forgiving of DUI’s; people like to drink and no buses, no cabs, and too far to walk home.  I remember reading an off-hand comment in an MN blog that state Rep. Rukavina from the Iron Range got a DUI and he did better in the next election.  And small-town areas have a “towny” culture and part of that are the local bars.  Go to church, eat brunch, go to the local bar to watch the game.

  30. of stuff to throw at the guy, why haven’t the Democrats been doing it?

    Also, what is this hairdresser stuff from 2002?  

  31. Except I think that the roll-out of the Wilmer campaign was horrible. Yeah, Ellie is a rockstar, but only among insiders, and on the other side it was a pretty planless thing, without campaign material, or anything. Franke hasn’t even officially announced yet except for the Ellie FB post (I didn’t see it on Twitter but I assume it’s the same).

    I’m actually wondering if Ellie asked Wilmer for permission before she posted this, but I truly don’t know.

    As for the Rehberg stuff, absolutely. The guy has a gazillion skeletons and can’t keep his mouth shut, so there will be a million absolutely hilarious gaffes during the campaign. He’ll probably suggest nuking the Pyramides or something like that, or dress up as a paper dragon for a dinner with a Chinese Government official.

  32. that it’s pretty irresponsible of the rural “culture” to accept drunk driving. If in fact that is true. I’m not about to put anybody down and I didn’t mean to offend anybody.

  33. Rehberg was challenged for the seat when he first won it, but he hasn’t had a race since. But he’s done crazy stuff since then and when Rehberg last lost MT-Sen, Baucus didn’t even drop the hammer on him because he had enough of a lead. There’s a ton of stuff in the public domain, but I know of a whole bunch more that has never seen the light of day. He is a despicable human being.

    The gay hairdresser adis notorious.

  34. 1. Rehberg’s never had a top-tier opponent due to recruiting failures or what not.

    2. In 2002’s Senate race against Max Baucus, Mike Taylor, the Republican candidate called a press conference on 10/10/2002 and pulled out of the race, citing a widely televised ad–that showed an old video of Taylor–wearing disco regalia in the early 1980s applying lotion to the face of another man. He never recovered from the humility of applying lotion to the face of another man while wearing a “ridiculous” outfit. It was a pretty smart ad fair or unfair and it all but knocked Taylor out of the race.  

  35. I’ve found that it’s sometimes helpful to approach some of the cultures of the US as if visiting or living in a foreign country. Observe. Don’t judge.

    In any case, Andrew did –not– say that rural culture accepts drunk driving. But if I understand his note, he did suggest that it is more difficult in some rural cultures to avoid driving under the influence in their everyday lives. Not like it’s easy to walk home from a bar in rural MN during football season (aka winter).

    A politician who opens up about his life, who accepts that he “sins,” in ways similar to others in the voting population, can under the right circumstances, get more support.

  36. One of the two candidates was actually a ‘Teddy Roosevelt Republican’, and in other words, a progressive. The other one was a nutter (like, REALLY nutty, militia-style) but relatively well-founded for MT standards (I think he had $90.000 or so for the primary, more than all Democrats in that race combined), allowing him to run radio ads and finance yard signs and such. And he got a bit local TV coverage.

    Yet he didn’t even come close. And there’s no high-profile tea partier in the state who could do it, unless you count locals like PSC commissioner Kavulla or State Rep Derek Skees. But those wouldn’t even try.

  37. is all but running in OH. One could argue she’s significantly stronger than DeWine (as she won statewide in ’06 as a non-incumbent).

  38. Surely I should not include her in the list before others.

    And the polls tell the people what I include in the post are the republicans with best results until now, including DeWine, Talent… Only they are not polls for ND, but I suspect I’m right here too.

    If you think the previous polls about Nebraska are right, the difference between Heinemann and Bruning is something like 20% less advantage.

    I’m not the most optimistic about Nebraska and North Dakota, but the republicans surely will need to fight in both states cause of run not with the frontrunners. They are more competitive races, and the democrats can win other seats, like Nebraska, Nevada or Maine.

  39. but we’re also dealing with the Mountain West here, which doesn’t think the way we do where government is concerned. MT voters see the Federal government as the great Satan more often than not. As far as a lot of people – even Democrats – in Montana are concerned, Obama = the government forcing people to buy health insurance. This in a state where $9/hr is considered a good wage and most people are too broke to afford a basic standard of living.

    Part of the reason Obama came close in MT in 2008 was because he was the first major-party Presidential nominee to campaign in MT in decades, but he was also using 2008 populist rhetoric. Now that he’s the candidate of the big establishment east coast government of doom, he’s going to lose a lot of independent and moderate Dem votes in the mountain west. The big dents Obama made in GOP margins in the Mountain West and Great Plains in 2008 simply aren’t going to happen twice, and the DNC knows it.

    Basically, Tester is on his own, as he should be. It’s the only way he’s going to win re-election with the cloud of Obama and Baucus hanging over the local perception of his party.  

  40. That’s how Senate races tend to work in at-large states. For example, Daschle, Johnson, and Thune were all SD-AL reps before being elected to the Senate.

    In this case, though, I think it works a little differently because MT is such a huge and culturally divided state, and Rehberg has never won a competitive race against an incumbent before. I think that thanks to Rehberg’s boneheaded lawsuit against the Billings fire department, Tester has a lot more room to shore up his western MT base, and also has the advantage of being from the side of the state that’s growing (and bluing) the fastest. Rehberg has the eastern side of the state, but I think his support is a lot softer.

    Of course, this is Montana, so there really IS something in the water, but I think Rehberg is much more likely to implode than Tester is based on what I know about both candidates. Tester’s liabilities are all external, and can be avoided if he’s especially careful. Rehberg’s biggest liability is himself.  

  41. really think there’s no chance, barring someone like Palin as his opponent, he can narrow his margins or even win in 2012 in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and similar states?  

  42. about that, but it’s been a while since anyone brought it up.

    Anyway, I guess it’s good, in a sense, that there’s so much dirt on Rehberg that can be used against him.  

  43. of Montana then, meaning that if he loses, he was probably bound to lose anyway?

    If what people here said about some candidates, like Gene Taylor and Jim Oberstar, is correct, then any candidate that is caught napping in 2012 deserves to lose, at least on our side. Those on the other side probably deserve to lose for any number of reasons. :]

  44. Ellie is an awesome surrogate when it comes to the online community, top notch. And in Missoula, too, if there’s a primary.

    I’m just waiting to see if Whitney Williams runs…

  45. On the one hand, Montanans are pretty huge about local patriotism. Rehberg is a fifth-generation Montanan, that is HUGE. Tester is a multi-generation Montanan too. If the Tea Party Express or another national group got involved here and started propping up a candidate, that would backfire completely. And the state tea party wouldn’t want to go up against Rehberg because they know they would lose. He doesn’t have much room to his right, he’s toeing the conservative line completely, cozying up to Bachmann and the Tea Party Caucus.

    The only thing that a tea partier could run on is earmarks and that doesn’t get you far in Montana. Or, which is more likely to happen, a wacko like French runs on issues like getting the US out of the United Nations or seceding from the Union or such, which is obviously not enough to oust a quasi-incumbent in the primary.

  46. Tyler Gernant run, though I’d probably support Wilmer even if they did.

    As for Ellie, as every Montana Democrat, I love her. I still think the roll-out was less-than-perfect, but Ellie’s cool and should have a lot of good will in the online community anyway and among Missoula progressives, too. Don’t forget that Tyler Gernant got only 50% in Missoula in the primary with the Engen endorsement AND the support of the Missoula progressive who-is-who against McD, so there are lots of voters who won’t care about it.

  47. Matt Singer mentioned on twitter Gernant was rumored to be looking at another run, I’ve also heard that in offline conversations today.

    But if Whit runs, the primary is only a formality.

  48. They are not polls for confirm it, but they are some example what make think that. At this point the PPP polls show many former officers leading the republican side in many states. It would be not rare to see Schafer leading too.

    Rick Berg is only a republican freshman what defeat the incumbent in a republican wave year in a red state. I’m not impressed by Berg. I doubt he would be over a decent number of republican statewide officers what are in their current office for a decent number of years.

  49. Wouldn’t any Republican be leading iagainst anyone besides Conrad & Dorgan?

    But Rick Berg has much more seniority, and impressed a whole load of people with his campaign to knock off Pomeroy. (who has high favorability ratings like Conrad & Dorgan)

    Ed Schafer is in no way different than Rick Berg, Wayne Stenehjem, Alvin Jaeger, Drew Wrigley, Jack Dalrymple, Kelly Schmidt, Doug Goehring, or Cory Fong. They are all Republican, and rather than focus on getting Schafer in there, the ND Republican Party should try to get someone younger to build up some seniority.

  50. at least according to some articles I’ve read that quoted someone pretty high up in ND-R politics (I think it was the insurance commissioner.)

  51. Only cause of keep the incumbent, Montana is a lot more competitive since the democratic point than North Dakota. And I think J Tester can be for fight still. The last PPP poll give to Rehberg only 2% of advantage over J Tester. This is not significant, only mean we have a competitive race.

    I would fight harder for win NE-Sen than for win ND-Sen only because Nelson is the incumbent and retires not. That deserve an effort in a state like Nebraska.

    But before spend some effort recruiting for ND-Sen, and would work a lot for the best recruitment for NV-Sen, MA-Sen or ME-Sen.

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