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Rep. Dennis Rehberg. Photo by Pete Talbot.

Montana Politics: 2008, Here We Come

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.

About Pete Talbot

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  1. My God! Can’t we just forget about this crap until after the holiday?!

  2. Pete — to clarify, Max is serving in his 5th term. thanks.

  3. Thanks, Barrett. Duly noted, won’t happen again. Pete

  4. When it comes to Max we might as well ignore the Party affiliation. The record clearly show that time and time again Max will go to bat for out of state corporate fat cats while only symbolically tossing Montanans an occasional bone, that is, when he is not outright saluting us with his index finger. Lets face it, Max cares about what is good for Max (or as he said “I call it as I see it”) so when the credit card companies came begging to raise the default rate on credit cards to a whopping 30% (a single mom paying off unexpected medical bills for her children need only be one day late and she is at 30%) in return for their hundreds of thousands in donations, Max was more than happy to oblige with an added bonus to Chase, Citibank and the rest of the loan sharks by voting for the Bankruptcy Bill to boot. This same generosity was extended to the energy companies, pharmaceutical companies and big oil with the resulting cost increases and tax burden further shifting on to the shoulders of us the middle class and that is only the tip of the iceberg. At least Rehberg is honest about who he is (a Republican) and who he represents which is a lot more than you can say for Max who goes out of his way to undermine the Democratic leadership, the Party and honest hard working families across this great state.
    To say his base is grumbling is an understatement. You bet I gave tons of money and knocked on doors for Tester but when it comes to Max, count on me writing in Donald Duck over giving Max my vote in 2008. When Democrats in Montana finally come to realize (and they will) how Max has “sold out” and cost them thousands through his pilfering of their pocketbooks on behalf of the ultra rich, Max might just find himself defeated not by the Republicans but by his very own Democratic base.

  5. To Rune. If this is the next election for our senator, please don’t throw your vote away. I hate to say it but if it weren’t for Nader I doubt if we’d be in the mess we’re in and Gore would have won and we would have been worried more about our planet than our 401K and Hummers.
    Look what happened with all of the Lib’s (that’s Libertarians not liberals) throwing their vote away on Stan Jones, now they have someone they dispise more than Conrad. Look what happened when Perot ran in the Bush41 v. Clinton. I totally understand your feelings, but to have Rehberg win by a very narrow margin because of these throw away votes would be sincerely regrettable.

  6. Spoken as a true Democrat. That was precisely my response as well as to why Al Gore lost the election at the time but let me ask you would your answer be different if Baucus had just announced he will run as a Republican in 2008, or “what does Leo Geocometto know that the we don’t”? Maybe it is time for the Democrats to offer up a better choice in 08 if for no other reason than to get Max’s attention. Those Democrats who still root for Max should not worry about my vote going to waste but rather to what extent and expense people like me will go to over the next year to convince other Democrats that it’s time for Max to pack his bags. We have seen the slash and burn of Medicaid, food stamps and student loans along with deep cuts in veteran’s health care. With the help of Baucus, Congress has yanked the last remnants of safety net from under those the most vulnerable in society in addition to bankrupting our children’s future. I’m not getting active in politics because I don’t like Baucus, quite to the contrary I have talked to Max (and donated) and he is a nice enough fellow but he was entrusted with our vote and quite frankly he has “squandered it” in favor of Corporate America’s excessive greed at our expense. I’m getting active because someone has to speak on behalf of the poor and those living on the margin that are trying to make ends meet while living from paycheck to paycheck with utilities and other basic services going through the roof.
    Then there is the war in Iraq an action initiated by George Bush so he could have “political Capital”. You may or may not know (or believe) that National Journal writer William Schneider reported that according to President Bush former ghost writer Mickey Herskowitz, two years before 9-11 Bush stated, ‘one of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief. My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ ‘If I have a chance to invade…. if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.” Bush made it clear from this and other quotes that he was planning to invade Iraq long before 9-11 and so the elaborate deceptions and lies began. Not surprisingly after he won his second term he again proclaimed, “Let me put it to you this way: I earned political capital today, and now I intend to spend it”. Max Baucus has and is today square behind Bush and this fiasco in Iraq where there still is no military objective or exit strategy and to make matters worse our Congressional leadership still refuses to acknowledge Iraq is in a civil war. One thing we have accomplished is breeding hate and future terrorists by the thousands so be not surprised if other countries in the region follow suite and deteriorate into civil war as well. Max, of all people who have lost someone near and dear to him, should ask himself who shall be the last soldier to lay down his life for this failed venture? But then again why break rank knowing Washington is amuck with testosterone filled pencil dicks that insist on seeing that almighty “victory” one day plastered across the headlines and local Newspapers as if that will somehow justify the misery it has brought.

  7. I agree with you Rune. I think that all parties should have a challenger in the primaries. If Max switched to be a Republican…..hmmmm…..well, if the Democrats put up someone that shared more in common with my values than Max, then I probably would continue to go Dem.
    I’m with you on returning power to the private citizens instead of the corporations. I wonder when our country started being more concerned about corporations than the people. Perhaps a McCain/Feingold lobby reform bill passage would be a great step in the right direction.

  8. What about downticket races? Do the Dems have a chance to take Lt. Governor seat and Sec State? Who will be the nominees?

  9. Good question, Alex. What will MT Atty. Gen. McGrath, Auditor Morrison and Lt. Gov. Bollinger do in 2008? Any insights out there?