Mason-Dixon for the Billings Gazette (3/14-16, registered voters, no trendlines):
Jon Tester (D-inc): 46
Denny Rehberg (R): 45
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.)