Montana’s GOP Congressman Faces Newcomer

By Beacon Staff

WASHINGTON – Democrat John Driscoll has waged an unusual campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.

Driscoll, a former state lawmaker who spent years in the National Guard, has promised not to spend any money and has refused to accept donations as he campaigns for Montana’s at-large seat in the U.S. House. And recently, Driscoll announced he planned to vote for Rehberg in November.

Denny Rehberg

“I promised yesterday that if Congressman Rehberg voted against the (federal) bailout package that he had my vote, and this morning the first thing I said to him was, ‘Thank you. You’ve got my vote,'” Driscoll said during the candidates’ Oct. 4 debate in Helena.

Craig Wilson, a political science professor at Montana State University-Billings, said Rehberg probably doesn’t have to worry about re-election, partly because of his opponent’s “quixotic” campaign.

“You have a seasoned Republican member of Congress with a long history in elected office who has raised a significant amount of money,” Wilson said.

Rehberg was elected to the House in 2000 and hasn’t had a seriously competitive race since then. He has remained popular in Montana by voting conservatively but bucking the Bush administration on issues important to the state, including farm programs and children’s health care. At last count, he had raised almost $900,000.

Driscoll, a retired National Guard colonel who worked in the Pentagon until a few years ago, says he is relying on visits with voters instead of paid media. He is also relying on voter discontent with Congress to help his campaign. Driscoll, who also served as a public service commissioner, said the nation is too dependent on oil and has called the Iraq war “stupid.”

John Driscoll

He has also said that his campaign could be helped by Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in Montana, which could drive up voter turnout among Democrats.

Wilson said he doesn’t think that a Democratic-trending election or general anti-incumbent sentiment will hurt Rehberg.

“There is a great tendency to bash the institution but look favorably on the person who is representing you,” Wilson said.

James Lopach, chairman of the political science department at the University of Montana, said it would be tough for any Democrat to oust Rehberg.

“It’s a very difficult district to run in because it’s the entire state — it takes a lot of money and time and energy,” he said. “There’s not much chance of winning because he is a popular incumbent with a lot of money.”

Libertarian Mike Fellows will also appear on the ballot with Rehberg and Driscoll. True to his party’s philosophy, Fellows says on his Web site that “government is simply force with a little mob rule thrown in.