Poll: Baucus, Rehberg Hold Wide Leads Over Challengers

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Sen. Max Baucus and Rep. Denny Rehberg hold comfortable leads over their challengers, a new poll shows.

Baucus, a Democrat who is running for his sixth consecutive six-year term, has a 65 percent to 26 percent lead over Republican Rep. Michael Lange of Billings, according to a poll done by Mason Dixon Polling & Research for Lee Newspapers of Montana.

The poll also shows Baucus with a 67 percent to 26 percent lead over Republican Kirk Bushman, an industrial-facilities designer from Billings.

Baucus should have no problem getting re-elected, said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling.

“He’s over 60 percent in his base of support,” Coker said. “It doesn’t really matter who the Republican is. When you’re running over 60 percent, you’re going to have to make a big mistake” to lose.

The telephone poll of 625 registered voters was done May 19-21 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Lange was unknown by 52 percent of voters while Bushman was unknown by 72 percent of those polled.

The other Republicans in the race are Missoula accountant Patty Lovass, rancher and truck driver Anton Pearson of St. Regis and perennial candidate Bob Kelleher, an attorney from Butte. Voters were not asked about their chances against Baucus.

Rehberg, who is seeking his fifth two-year term, has a 52 percent to 20 percent lead over Democratic challenger and political newcomer Jim Hunt, who was unknown by 61 percent of those polled. In the race between Rehberg and Hunt, 23 percent are undecided.

Those polled were not asked about two other candidates, Richey farmer-rancher Robert Candee and John Driscoll, a former state legislator and public service commissioner from Helena.

Coker said Rehberg’s 52 percent support is relatively low for an incumbent without a well-known challenger.

“That probably reflects a backlash against Republicans,” nationwide, Coker said.

Coker said he expects Hunt to start closing the gap once voters get to know him and realize he’s Rehberg’s Democratic opponent.

“It’s a name-ID gap,” Coker said. “Of the people that recognize him, half the people are voting for him. I think (Rehberg) wins, but this might not be his biggest margin he’ll ever post.”

The poll also sought job performance ratings for top state officials, and Baucus led the way with a 67 percent positive rating — the same rating he had in June and December 2007.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer had a positive job performance rating of 57 percent, down from 69 percent in May 2006. Rehberg’s positive rating is at 56 percent — down from 68 percent in December 2006 and 61 percent in June 2007.

Rehberg’s “job performance probably reflects the declining popularity of Republicans in Congress,” Coker said.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s positive job approval rating is 52 percent, while President Bush’s positive job approval score is at 36 percent, down from 40 percent in December, but up from 35 percent in June 2007. Montanans gave Congress an 11 percent positive job approval grade, down from 19 percent in December, the poll showed.

For the job approval rating, voters are asked to rate the performance of a politician from among four choices: excellent, pretty good, only fair and poor. The excellent and pretty good scores are combined to yield the positive job performance score.

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