Friday, August 21, 2020

Race of the Day- Montana U.S. Senate

Montana U.S. Senate

74 Days Until Election Day

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

Outlook: Tossup (R)

For the second straight cycle, the eyes of the American political world will be partly fixed in Montana, as an incumbent U.S. Senator faces a serious challenge, and with the balance of power of the legislative body possibly hanging in the balance in this low population state.
There have been several close contests for this office in the state since the Millennium began as a largely pro-Republican state also deals with its history of electing populist Democrats to the Senate and the office of Governor. Two years ago, in spite of Republicans winning contests in other "red states", Democrat Jon Tester held his seat by a 50-47 margin. It was the first time in three runs that Tester ever received a majority of the vote, having been aided in the past by the Libertarian Party. Incumbency definitely helps in close races traditionally, and this time, it is first term Senator Steve Daines, a Republican facing reelection.
While Daines is the incumbent for this office, he is facing someone familiar to Montana voters in Steve Bullock, the outgoing two term Governor of the state. Both men won nomination without breaking much of a sweat and this matchup has been long anticipated.

Six years ago, Daines was a freshman Congressman, representing the entire state, when he jumped into a Senate race in which Democrats were dealing with a world of complication. Daines, a businessman, who had been a colleague of Greg Gianforte, the Republican who would succeed him in Congress and now shares the ballot as the party's nominee for Governor, had wanted to run for the Senate in 2012. Instead, he deferred to a better known candidate and ran for the House instead. When the seat long held by Max Baucus opened up, Daines jumped at the chance to move up. Baucus would actually resign early to become Ambassador to China and Governor Bullock names his Lt. Governor Steve Walsh to the Senate to replace the Democrat. A plagiarism scandal would engulf Walsh though, and he would exit the race as the party scrambled for a candidate. They settled on a female State Representative who had views too far to the left for the state and Daines had a fairly comfortable ascent to the upper chamber.

Despite botching the filling of the Senate vacancy, Bullok has been pretty successful politically in Montana. He was elected as the state's Attorney General before winning two terms as Governor, in races that Republicans believed they should have won. With proven crossover appeal to conservative and libertarian minded voters, Bullock made a longshot bid for his party's Presidential nomination, saying he had the best chance nationally to win back Trump voters. He could make a case for himself in having done so in Montana, but in the ultra-crowded field, Bullock failed to make much headway in regards to fundraising or standing out in what was I believe the one debate he was allowed to participate in. Democrats across the country were calling on Bullock to drop out and run instead for the Senate against Daines. Even after exiting the race, the Governor maintained he had no interest in serving in a legislative body and would not seek the office. Democrats were left looking at a relatively short bench to take on the incumbent Senator. Suddenly, Bullock had a change of heart and was a last minute entry in March. Partisans of his party from across the nation rejoiced.

Daines has been a steadfast ally of Donald Trump during their time together in Washington. Few doubt that Trump will once again carry Montana, although polls are showing that Joe Biden is running much stronger there than Hillary Clinton did. All statewide races are up in state this November, including the very competitive open contests for Governor and U.S. House. Republicans are at least slight favorites in those, but might there be enough people who want to split their ticket to vote for at least one Democrat which could catapult known quantity Bullock to victory? On the other hand, might people vote the party line in all the top races, allowing Daines to win again? The Green Party has been disqualified and there seems to be a lot of drama within the state Libertarian Party, so nobody may be able to play "spoiler" here.

This one truly seems to be  up in the air. It might not matter to staunch Democrats that Bullock is running for an office that he probably really does not even want to hold. Others may look at it as a case of pure political ambition and being somewhat controlled by Chuck Schumer and national Democrats. Some polls in the spring, showed Bullock leading Daines. More recently though, surveys are showing Daines holding a slight lead. If the Democrat challenger falls short here, he may be rewarded for service to the party by perhaps being in line for a Cabinet slot, such as Secretary of Interior.

I believe this race could really go either way and if there is a clear national trend in favor of Democrats on Election Day, then this could easily be a flip. Out of all the Democrats running in high profile races in Montana, Bullock is most likely to win, even as the only facing an incumbent, because of his political track record. For now though, a tossup race will be "predicted" by considering the overall political lean of the state, as it relates to federal races, which would slightly favor Daines and the GOP.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

9 D (3 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Lean, 2 Tossup) 
11 R (2 Safe, 4 Likely, 3 Lean, 2 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

44 Democrats (35 holdovers, 3 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Lean, 2 Tossup)
41 Republicans (30 holdovers, 2 Safe, 4 Likely, 3 Lean, 2 Tossup)


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