If you haven’t recovered from the 2006 midterm election: too bad. The 2008 election is already creating a buzz.
We’ll leave the presidential contest to the national prognosticators. Here’s what Montana political consultants, bloggers and gadflies are saying about our 2008 statewide election.
There are two schools of thought. One is that Montana Republicans are finished, for a while. Where will they find a sacrificial lamb to go against popular Gov. Brian Schweitzer in ’08? And can any Republican beat four-term Democratic Senator Max Baucus?
Then there are the pundits who say we’re still a red state. The Republicans have just had some bad luck, like Gov. Judy Martz and her record-setting low opinion polls, or the scandal-ridden Sen. Conrad Burns. Without these albatrosses around the GOP’s neck, they say, the Republicans would still be running strong. Just look at our sole congressman, Dennis Rehberg (R), who won big.
Some say Rehberg has been licking his wounds for a decade, waiting for a rematch against Sen. Max Baucus (D). (Baucus beat Rehberg by 49.6% to 44.7% in the 1996 Senate race. Baucus has held federal office since 1974. This was his closest contest.)
The pundits also note that Eric Iverson, Rehberg’s chief of staff, was tapped late in the game this year to run Burns’ campaign. Is he being groomed to run another statewide Senate race in ’08, perhaps a Baucus-Rehberg rematch?
They say that Rehberg is repackaging himself as a Republican Populist. The populist message sure seemed to work well for Schweitzer and Senator-elect Jon Tester (D).
Although usually a staunch ally of the administration, Rehberg was just reported as bucking the president on BPA electricity rate-hikes. He’s not using the Karl Rove game plan anymore.
Other folks say Rehberg would be foolish to run against Baucus. Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Lobbyists, political action committees and individuals will be throwing money at him. Baucus’ campaign war chest in ’08 could make Burns’ $7.5 million expenditure in ’06 look anemic.
It would be much easier for Rehberg — he’d expend a lot less energy and spend a lot less money — to just keep getting elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. (His closest House race was a 51.5% to 46.3% win over Nancy Keenan in 2000.)
Baucus has some trouble with his base, however. Progressives who have always supported him are grumbling about his votes on Medicare, tax cuts, bankruptcy…to name a few. His lack of leadership on curbing corruption and the Iraq War doesn’t help.
There’s been talk of a primary challenger to Baucus. Insiders dismiss this as a fool’s errand. Progressives do worry that a primary challenger might move Baucus even further to the right but they’d like to give him a wake up call just the same.
Conventional wisdom has it that Rehberg won’t run against Baucus. But if he does take the plunge, that would leave an open U.S. House seat and the possibilities there are mind-boggling.
As for the governor’s race, assuming Brian Schweitzer runs for a second term and doesn’t, say, get caught in bed with a ewe, what Republican would go up against him? That seat is probably safe.
All this can change in a heartbeat. As a former Baucus campaign coordinator said, “You can’t have a thought until you’ve taken a poll.”
Stay tuned, Happy Thanksgiving and remember, only 715 days until Election ’08.