Rehberg Fending Off Another Longshot Bid

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg has a lot working for him in his re-election campaign.

Conservative politics are again popular, and Rehberg seems to be capitalizing with his staunch opposition to the policies of President Barack Obama. He also has easily outpaced opponent Dennis McDonald in fundraising.

But McDonald believes voters are sick of all incumbents, and he is painting Rehberg as an insider who is part of the problem in a last attempt to convince voters before Tuesday to turn on the incumbent.

With a series of attacks McDonald is putting attention on Rehberg’s lawsuit against firefighters and a boat crash he was involved in last summer that left the driver facing serious charges.

Rehberg has been in his comfort zone during the campaign holding forums around the state, hearing complaints from mostly conservative audiences about policies coming out of Washington D.C.

The incumbent is opposed to the health care bill and wants it repealed. Like other congressional Republicans, he wants to extend the Bush-era tax cuts at the start of the year.

“The people of Montana know exactly where I stand,” said Rehberg, seeking a sixth term.

He has changed his position on the use of congressional earmarks to get more money back home in Montana. Once an advocate, he now says he won’t seek them because federal spending has grown too much.

Democrats accuse him of hypocrisy for supporting deficit spending under the Bush Administration, only to now turn his back on the money that would help Montana constituents. Rehberg has not missed a beat with his criticism.

“The Democrats got control and they blew the budget up,” Rehberg said. “Our budget is so far out of balance now that our debt is increasing exponentially.”

His opponent, McDonald, has become relentless with his attacks.

He says Rehberg used questionable judgment when, after a couple drinks, he allowed staffers in August 2009 to join him on a boat that ultimately crashed into a rocky Flathead Lake shoreline. Several were seriously injured. State Sen. Greg Barkus of Kalispell is currently fighting charges that he was drunk while driving the vessel.

Rehberg and his staff have said the crash was simply an accident.

McDonald has blasted Rehberg for subdividing his ranch and says “he is no more a rancher than I am an astronaut.” The Democrat has also lampooned Rehberg for earlier this year suing the city of Billings over the way firefighters dealt with a 2008 blaze that damaged subdivision land developed by his company. The Republican is seeking money from the city.

McDonald, a Melville rancher and former chairman of the Montana Democratic Party, said the conventional wisdom that Republicans hold the upper hand in congressional races around the country is not entirely accurate. He said Rehberg will be perceived by voters as part of the problem in Congress.

“There is just an overwhelming sentiment to throw the rascals out. I think it’s one of the reasons I have a good chance of prevailing this election,” McDonald said. “Rep. Rehberg epitomizes the incumbent. He has been feeding out of the government trough for 20 years, the last ten as our congressman.”

McDonald said he would cut spending by pushing for the end for the overseas wars and a reduction of military bases in foreign countries. He would vote for extending the Bush-era tax cuts for those earning less than $250,000, and ending it for higher wage earners as a way to bridge the budget deficit.

He would not vote to repeal the health care bill, but instead would advocate for a simpler plan that would allow anyone who chooses to voluntarily enroll in Medicare.

Republicans have hammered McDonald for his past clients, questioning his character and “association” with organized crime figure-turned mob informant Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno. As an attorney in California, McDonald represented Fratianno and has said he helped the mobster turn state’s evidence against others.

Rehberg has mostly left those attacks to the party apparatus.

University of Montana political scientist James Lopach said the incumbent has run a cautious campaign. The tea party anger and renewed excitement in conservatives nationally is only going to help Rehberg.

“He is like a basketball team with a big lead and doesn’t want to make any mistakes. I presume his lead and the circumstances of this election season will carry him to victory,” Lopach said.