Montana’s Five-Term Senator Faces Light Challenge

By Beacon Staff

WASHINGTON – Montana’s U.S. Sen. Max Baucus has weathered some tough campaigns during his almost 30 years in the Senate. In comparison, 2008 is proving to be a relatively easy road to re-election for the Democrat.Baucus, 66, is running against perennial candidate Bob Kelleher, who was a surprise winner in June’s GOP primary. Kelleher, 85, has never held political office, but has run for various elected positions at least 16 times over 40 years – including as a Democratic and a Green Party candidate.

Max Baucus

Kelleher’s campaign has one part-time employee and has spent very little money. The five-term senator, on the other hand, has raised more than $11 million at last count. Baucus has about 50 campaign staffers in nine offices around the state and spent thousands of dollars on TV ads.

“If the Republican party had been able to come up with a worthy, well-funded candidate they could have made some trouble for Baucus,” said James Lopach, chairman of the political science department at the University of Montana. “But this guy (Kelleher) can’t do that.”

State Republicans have largely kept their distance from Kelleher, whose political views run the political spectrum.

Kelleher wants to change to a parliamentary form of government, saying the presidency has become a monarchy and far too powerful. On his Web site, he calls for a law banning Internet sex shows. Though he is strongly opposed to abortion, he breaks with the GOP on many issues – including the Iraq war, which he has called “illegal.”

Though the two men will not debate, Kelleher is hoping that people will learn about his candidacy through appearances and radio ads. As of last month, he’d spent about $20,000. His Web site lists upcoming appearances in Lewistown and Bozeman.

Bob Kelleher

Baucus has traveled all over the state in recent months to remind voters of what he’s up to in Washington. Since 2002, when Baucus was last re-elected, he has used his seniority to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. That panel oversees taxes and health care, along with many other important issues, and Baucus has touted that position back home.

He is also campaigning on millions of dollars he has brought home to the state, including for farm and highway programs.

Craig Wilson, a political science professor at Montana State University-Billings, says Baucus has been further helped because he has been a lead negotiator on a $700 billion bailout for the financial industry.

“He can look senatorial,” Wilson said. “That will probably benefit Baucus more than it will hurt him.”