Incumbents Score High Marks as Election Year Looms

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Sen. Max Baucus and Rep. Denny Rehberg have strong approval ratings heading into the 2008 election, a poll conducted for Lee Newspapers of Montana shows.

A telephone poll of 625 registered Montana voters, conducted Dec. 17-19 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., of Washington, D.C., showed the three major office holders would be returned to office if the election were held today. The poll’s margin of error is 4 percentage points.

The poll shows Baucus has a 67 percent job approval rating and would be elected to a sixth six-year term by a 63-25 margin over Republican Rep. Michael Lange of Billings, if the election were held today. Twelve percent were undecided.

Fifty-eight percent of those polled didn’t recognize Lange’s name. He has raised just $6,166 in campaign money, compared to $8.6 million for Baucus, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Baucus looks completely solid for re-election,” said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon, who added that “nobody knows Lange. Lange is outside the mainstream political circle.”

Schweitzer’s approval rating was 61 percent and the poll shows he would be re-elected by a 55-30 percent margin over challenger Sen. Roy Brown, R-Billings. Fifteen percent of those polled said they were undecided.

Schweitzer has raised slightly more than $750,000 for his campaign, while Brown entered the race in November and has not filed a campaign finance report.

Brown was unknown by 51 percent of those polled.

“Brown’s negatives aren’t horrible,” Coker said. “He’s credible, but he’s running uphill. As long as Schweitzer’s base of support is in the mid 50s, it’s going to be hard to beat him.”

Rehberg’s approval rating was 58 percent. The Mason-Dixon poll showed 59 percent would vote to give him a fifth two-year term, while 26 percent said they would support a Democrat and 15 percent were undecided. Rehberg is unopposed after Democrat Bill Kennedy, a Yellowstone County commissioner, dropped out of the race for health reasons in mid-November.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is completing the first year of a six-year term, has a job approval rating of 55 percent, compared to 46 percent in a Mason-Dixon poll conducted six months ago.