MT-Sen: Tester With Microscopic Lead Over Rehberg

Mason-Dixon for the Billings Gazette (3/14-16, registered voters, no trendlines):

Jon Tester (D-inc): 46

Denny Rehberg (R): 45

Undecided: 9

(MoE: ±4%)

If you needed any convincing that the Jon Tester/Denny Rehberg duel is going to be one of the closest Senate races in the country in 2012 — where not only the seat but potentially control of the entire Senate may boil down to a few thousand voters in Montana — here’s some clear evidence. Mason-Dixon finds the race is a “virtual tie” (as those in the media are fond of saying), with both candidates with high name recognition and extremely high levels of polarization in how voters of the two parties support them. Tester gets 94-1 (!) support among Dems while Rehberg gets 89-3 support among Republicans; Tester’s lead depends on indies, among whom he leads 49-37.

Mason-Dixon also looked at approvals for the state’s other big-name politicians: Max Baucus, once the one untouchable political figure in the state, is now its least popular (thanks to his role as one of the most public faces of the HCR sausage-making process), with 38% approval. Should the currently 69-year-old Baucus retire in 2014 (and he may have no choice, given those numbers), outgoing Gov. Brian Schweitzer would be a ready-made replacement for the Dems, tops in the state at 60% approval. Tester is at 50%, with Rehberg at 48%. (The Gazette doesn’t seem to report the disapproval half of the equation, for some reason.)

43 thoughts on “MT-Sen: Tester With Microscopic Lead Over Rehberg”

  1. Likely not doing as well as 2008 with that 40% approval rating. That may mean a shift in the turnout model. The exit poll two and a half years ago was 33d-33r-35i which with these crosstabs would have Tester up 49-43. 2004 turnout was 32d-39r-29i which results in Rehberg up 46-45. Too close to call.

    P.S. The 94-1 is a great example of what nonsense some online spout with regard to “bad” votes.

  2. Close to 50% support him and there is room to grow. Tester is very non-controversial too, which means he can get crossover votes.

  3. I think Tester is a good fit for the state. Also, Rehberg seems to have some “temperament” issues (mainly, he has a bad temper).  

  4. I’ll believe Baucus retiring the day I hear it from his own mouth. As for this race, it’s good to be starting out at a tie when Rehberg still has like 18 months left to fuck this up. And he will.

  5. will match and even exceed ’08,

    such factors would not help someone like Tester. He may have to tack away from the President to win re-election.

  6. will be a huge drag on Tester unless he somehow does worse than Kerry did in 2004. That year, Kerry scored only 78 percent of Democrats. However, in 2008, Obama scored 92 percent. I have to wonder if that was more a function of the year and Obama being more acceptable or Obama just bringing a lot of voters that hadn’t shown up in 2004 out to the polls. Whatever the case, where do you think he’ll end up?

    As long as Obama doesn’t fall below 40 percent, I still think Tester could win. If he manages to get at least 45 percent, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t win. And here, perhaps more than in any other state, if he wins, Tester will win.

  7. I have to wonder if that was more a function of the year and Obama being more acceptable or Obama just bringing a lot of voters that hadn’t shown up in 2004 out to the polls

    Probably a lot of both, with perhaps some more of the latter.

    Also remember that Montana isn’t a dyed-in-the-wool Hard Red State like Wyoming or The Dakotas. Rather, there are strong libertarian and “prairie populist” streaks here. That’s why Brian Schweitzer is still so popular there, and why I think Obama may actually flip Montana Blue if the Republicans nominate a crazy teabagger like Gingrich or Palin.

  8.  Because like some parts of the South, there are many voters who register Democratic but do not vote Democratic. Many of the old mining towns had a strong Democratic presence and although Kerry won 57% in Silver Bow County (Butte), it has not voted as strongly Democratic as it did in the past. Obama’s percentage of the Democrats soared though as he managed to win 68% of the vote there.

    The pattern of registering Democratic and voting Republican is apparent in other western areas too. Gila, Graham and Greenlee counties also used to vote strongly Democratic. Jimmy Cater who lost Arizona by 17 points in 1976 managed to win 53% in Gila and 62% in Greenlee (he lost Graham by 10 points though.) Even in 1980 when Carter lost Arizona by 32 points, he managed to win Greenlee County by 14 points. Bush though won Greenlee County by 25 points in 2004.  

  9. if the economy is sufficiently strong so that 2012 is looking more and more like 2008, he could win Montana even if the nominee is someone like Daniels. It wouldn’t be by a huge margin, of course, but that’s not a big deal.  

  10. Gingrich or Palin, and there was moderately good economic news, I expect Obama would win the Dakota’s.  

  11. …the turnout shows Montana with, rounded off to the nearest thousand, 493K Presidential votes in 2008; 450K in 2004; 411K in 2000; 407K in 1996; 410K in 1992; and 365K in 1988.

    So turnout was flat for the Clinton/Gore period, then spiked as elsewhere in 2004, and again spiked as elsewhere in 2008.  The increases over the previous cycle were 9% in 2004 and 10% in 2008.

    Nationally turnout went from 105 milliion in 2000 to 122 million in 2004 to 132 million in 2008.  That was a 16% turnout increase in 2004 and then an 8% increase in 2008.

    I think comparing the turnout changes in 2004 and 2008 between Montana and the nation as a whole show that, indeed, Obama targeting Montana made a big difference.  But to be sure, Obama still earned fewer votes than the Republican ticket in 2008, 2004, or 2000.  Of course Obama way outperformed Dole because that was a 3-way with Perot, but Dole plus Perot combined still barely outnumbered Obama in votes.

    Again, the vote-total comparison shows Obama got a spike in votes, while the Republican ticket was only comparable to previous elections, thus showing again that there was an Obama turnout spike.

  12. I’ve said this a few times, but there’s a way to emphasize your independence from the party while not running away from it: selling yourself. I think Claire McCaskill is doing just that in Missouri. Why wouldn’t Tester do the same in Montana? It would fit better with his personal appeal, as I see it.  

  13. While I’m never happy with the idea, I have no problem with Ds in difficult states who have to work with different positions in order to get re-elected.

    How is McCaskill doing what you suggest, with the possible exception of sounding like a waffler?

  14. suggests she’s running on the issues and what she herself stands for rather than loudly in opposition to her party. You could argue that there’s really no difference, but I’d disagree. Take health care, for instance. She still stands behind the bill, but she, rightly or wrongly, claims she wants certain things changed. Perhaps she’s being slightly, or even heavily, disingenuous about some of this stuff, but I think that’s only because the Republicans are giving her an opportunity to do so. She signed on in support of the Cap Act with Bob Corker, which was a stupid piece of legislation, but when was the last time we heard anything about it? As I said at the time, it had no chance of going anywhere, but she was able to support it and wear the mantle of fiscal responsibility. She gets all of the benefits, but none of the drawbacks.

    Check out the link below. I think it’s a good example of how she’s not really attacking the party but instead focusing on the issues.

  15. … until the Republicans nominate someone less unpopular in Montana than Obama.

    Right now there is no other way to look at it than Obama is a plus to Tester, as long as all the Republicans are more unpopular than Obama.

    Someone with negative approvals can be a positive as long as his/her opponent has worse approvals.

  16. I don’t think even a moderate info voter would understand the difference between McCaskill and President Obama — especially as he’s been trying to take “moderate” positions on a number of issues.

  17. something where it’s clear that Tester and President Obama do not agree, such as the DREAM act.  

  18. Given that we are not likely to have a lot of room for loss in the senate coming out of this cycle, I’d really, really like to not have to worry about Baucus costing us Montana in 2014. Assuming Baucus is dead set against going into lobbying come 2014, I would love to see Schweitzer launch a primary challenge against Baucus. If Schweitzer ran a populist outsider campaign, I could see him beating Baucus in a primary. The only question is whether he would actually be game to do that, which I’m not sure about.  

  19. They’re not close at all, since Schweitzer came out for single payer health-care, but Baucus probably has most max-out donors in the state locked up. I personally think it would become more likely if Tester loses, since I think that Tester would probably endorse Baucus.

    This is the stuff you can find everywhere on the net though, I don’t have inside info on this. There was some rumor about someone polling Schweitzer vs. Baucus about half a year ago in the MT blogosphere.  

  20. isn’t to get people to vote for Obama (or against him, but there’s no reason she’d want them to do that); it’s to get them to vote for her. To do that, she needs the support from all Obama voters and, quite likely, a small number of people that would vote for the Republican presidential candidate. (If Obama wins the state, I can’t help but think she will, too.) That’s why I think she’s playing this right: she’s making this race about her.

  21. I’m not sure that the average voter pays too much attention to most bills in congress, especially ones like the CAP Act that don’t get much play in the media and never go anywhere. It certainly is very important to have clear issues that differentiate you with the President. But optical, personality-driven differences are just as important. That’s one of the things that I feel Tester does best. He just comes off as very “Montana”, with his looks, the populist everyman way he frames issues when he talks, his story of owning and working on a farm that has been in his family for almost 100 years, etc. Those things are part of what allow him to run ahead of Obama, not just his differences on issues.

  22. for yourself. When she attaches herself to legislation like the Cap Act, she can claim she’s trying to work in a bipartisan manner about bringing spending under control. It doesn’t matter if the legislation is good or (in my opinion, very, very) bad. It just matters that she’s doing something. And she is, without trashing her party or her party’s leader in any significant way.  

  23. optical, personality-driven differences are just as important

    Absolutely! It was key in a number of House races out West. It was hard for Jesse Kelly to paint Gabby Giffords as some “Obama lackey” or “Pelosi clone” in AZ-08 when she was regularly out there talking to voters and media about where she herself stood on immigration, health care, military matters, etc. And not only was she explaining where she stood with her words, but the optics of the “Tucson girl who made good” also helped.

    But even though Dina Titus also had her own disagreements with President Obama, the optics never really looked right here in NV-03. Even though she herself was very genuine in explaining her policy views, it was easy to claim she was “wishy washy” in going to Dem Clubs and praising health care reform, then going to a candidate forum and pointing out every time she opposed the bill in committee.

  24. I think a candidate has to say “I vote with the President when he’s right, and only when he’s right for (insert state here)” in a very specific way.

    In that way, Kos helped Tester when he threw his fit after Tester’s vote on the DREAM act.

  25. what was the huge difference between Obama and Kerry? To be quite frank, I can’t imagine the black guy with the middle name of Hussein having that much of an easier time connecting to Montana Democrats than the Massachusetts liberal with the billionaire South African wife. It’s not as if Kerry was like Schweitzer or something. Maybe some Montana Democrats just really liked Bush, or maybe these same Democrats went for McCain but Obama just brought more people more likely to vote for him out.  

  26. seem like we are arguing over something minor and that we are closer together than it might seem, even if you don’t fully buy my claim about McCaskill.  

  27.  That Obama strongly contested Montana while McCain barely did. Obama almost never mentioned gun control while voters perceived Kerry as closer to gun control. Also, the Republican brand of social conservatism may have been too extreme for some western voters who are more libertarian and in general not as religious as the Christian Conservatives of the South.  

  28. with your first part but not with the second. If anything, Bush was more associated with religious conservatism than McCain was.

    Regardless, I suspect the new floor in Montana is more like 45 percent, unless it’s a really bad year, just as it is in Indiana.  

  29. in targeting the state in 2012 for Obama–and perhaps for Tester as well, since his vote share will probably build on Obama’s share, unless Obama’s winning the state by 15 points–is that there’s not that much more room to grow the electorate, as opposed to growing his share of the vote. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that bringing new voters into the process doesn’t solve everything, but it can be a valuable tool. And while there’s a sizable percentage of people that aren’t registered in the state or are registered but aren’t voting, it’s not that many people. Still, if you split the difference between what Bush had and what McCain had, you get about 250,000 votes. If the Obama campaign could get that many, he’d probably win.  

  30. Rehberg also likes the drinkey-drink. Which is fine. Most Americans, and Montanans, do. But Rehberg’s had more infamous drunken incidents during his congressional career than I had in college. The way I look at it, we’re just one whiskey bottle away from him calling a woman “sugar tits” or saying something awful about Jews…. hopefully during the general election and not the primary.

  31. would be to bring up how, last year, Rehberg sued a MT fire company because they did not put out a small fire on his ranch fast enough for his liking.

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