Monday, September 03, 2018

Montana U.S. Senate- Race of the Day

64 Days Until Election Day

Montana U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

Here, we have another example of Democrats needing to play defense this cycle in terms of the U.S. Senate map. As energized as the opposition to Donald Trump might be, it will naturally be difficult for the party to make up the difference in a state that they lost by nearly 20 points in the last Presidential election. My hunch is that this could wind up the closest Senate race in the country.

Twice, Democrat Jon Tester has won election to the U.S. Senate without taking a majority of the vote. If he is to survive this year, the same will almost certainly be the case, with the Libertarian Party theoretically taking enough votes away from the GOP nominee to aid the Democrat incumbent. With that in mind, Republicans had hoped the presence of a Green Party nominee could counter that a bit on the left, but a judge has ruled that the nominee of the party did not file enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Despite that, the frequent candidate is attempting to win write-in votes.

In 2006, a strong year for Democrats, Tester took 49 percent of the vote to oust a controversial GOP incumbent by one point. At the time, Tester had been President of the Montana Senate and a darling of left-wing "netroots" activists, as his anti-establishment candidacy was a top priority of blogs such as Daily Kos. After going to Washington, many of these groups would find themselves somewhat let down by the Senator's voting record, as he had to find a way to navigate the political realities of Big Sky Country, and cast some votes that differed from many of the liberal icons in the Senate.

When he sought reelection in 2012, Republicans were hopeful of beating Tester right up until the end, with the nomination of the state's at large Congressman, but Tester prevailed 49-45. The fact that the Libertarian nominee received 7 percent of the vote clearly indicates the race would have been much closer and quite possible yielded a different result without him.

As is the case with a handful of other Senators this year, Tester, as an incumbent, is clearly vulnerable, but at the same time, likely the only Democrat who would stand a decent chance of holding the seat for the party in this red state. In the long-run up to 2016, Republicans were looking to Ryan Zinke, then the state's at large Congressman, with a significant military background, to challenge Tester, but he instead was chosen by Donald Trump to become Secretary of the Interior. Other Republicans with statewide electoral experience such as Attorney General Tim Fox and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton also passed on the race.

The feeling for many now was that Tester got a break by keeping the "A list" candidates off the field. Republicans would wind up having a very competitive four way primary, that did include one recently elected statewide official, Auditor Matt Rosendale. Two years earlier in 2014, Rosendale had finished in third place for the statewide GOP U.S. House primary.

Rosendale had spent most of of his life in his native Maryland, but moved to Montana in 2002, after having bought a ranch. His opponents, in both political parties have made this an issue throughout the campaign and have claimed that his decision to become a Montanan was due to political ambitions. Rosendale also happens to have a nearly identical flat-top haircut, reminiscent of the 1950s, that Tester has. Hair aside, he differs from his opponent by not having lost any fingers in a meat-grinding accident and having a significantly smaller waistline than the very girthy Senator.

With significant outside support from national conservative figures and groups, Rosendale won the June primary, but with just 34 percent of the vote. In second place with 28 percent, was former judge Russell Fagg, who had the support of many GOP establishment figures in Montana, who believed he was the most electable candidate. (One has to perhaps wonder how many votes he lost from small-minded people due to his somewhat unusual ballot name.) Third place finisher Troy Downing, a businessman and veteran with roots in California and fourth place finisher, State Senator and physician Albert Olszewski both received 19 percent of the vote. The general consensus had been that Rosendale would win the primary by a larger margin.

With the general election set, both parties were ready for an onslaught of national attention and money to pour into the race. It started though with the incumbent Tester having a significant advantage in cash and name recognition. That was reflected in many of the early polls this summer. Donald Trump may have taken a particular interest in this race though, even before the primary, after Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Veterans' Affairs Committee went on television and alleged a pattern of professional and personal misconduct against Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician whom Trump had nominated to become Secretary of Veterans' Affairs. It was an unusual nomination due to Jackson's resume, but many believed that Tester went too far in going public with those rumor instead of allowing a Senate investigation to conclude, as part of the normal confirmation process. The Secret Service denied some of the allegations against Jackson, which dated back to his time as Barack Obama's White House doctor, but the story remained murky and Jackson, after mixed public signals from the White House, withdrew from consideration. Trump vowed revenge against Tester and has since been to Montana to campaign for Rosendale, where he claimed to "know stuff" about Tester that would prevent him from being elected. Needless to say, if Trump or anybody else does "know stuff" that would disqualify Tester, expect it to come out before the election. That is Politics 101. It sure sounds like a low-energy bluff instead though on behalf of Trump.

At the time of the Presidential visit, Tester played up his accomplishments for the state and his support of numerous bills that Trump has signed. To win reelection, Tester is going to have to get a sizable chunk of Trump voters to back his candidacy. As is the case in several other states won by Trump, Supreme Court politics and the upcoming confirmation vote on Brett Kavanaugh will closely be watched. Tester voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch, to the dismay of many of the people who backed him across the country in 2006, and is highly likely to vote for Kavanaugh this month as well. That could cause him some support among votes on the left who do not understand the political principle of electability.

One can truly flip a coin on this race. Most poll shave shown Tester narrowly ahead by a recent GOP conducted one now has Rosendale ahead by a statistically insignificant margin. It is too early to tell if the tide has turned, but if anything, I would have thought a Republican poll could have produced a larger lead for the challenger.

Tester has skated by before, but has never lost an election and his down-home unpretentious style might still have appeal, especially to those who might find Rosendale somewhat inauthentic or a carpetbagger. Once again, there is also the Libertarian candidate  where even one percent of the vote, that might have otherwise gone Republican, could make the difference. Some people on the right need lessons about political pragmatism as well.

Barring the introduction of further evidence of Montana's Republican nature causing Tester to lose the voters he has won before, the incumbent is an extremely narrow favorite.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 
12 D (7 Safe, 2 Likely, 1 Leans, 2 Tossup), 
  5 R (1 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:
35 D (23 holdovers, 7 Safe, 2 Likely, 1 Leans, 2 Tossup)
47 R (42 holdovers, 1 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Tossup)


At 2:44 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Corey: Tester loses.


Post a Comment

<< Home