Montana U.S. Senate 2012: Rehberg versus Tester

Yesterday afternoon as I was gathering ideas for today’s column, it appeared I had a pretty good idea of what I would write about: Senator Jon Tester and Taco Bell.

Tester had come out with a statement saying Taco Bell should use Montana beef and the Montana media freaked out in reporting it. I had a couple good jokes in mind about the Senator and Taco Bell.

I did find out that Senator Tester “regularly returns to the Senate with his own supply of Montana beef…” which is nice unless your flight is delayed on the hot tarmac in Atlanta…

But now Jon Tester has more worries than the meat in his burritos from Taco Bell; it appears he’s got Congressman Denny Rehberg to worry about. Tester may also be worrying if his first four years as a United States Senator has had any beef or has it just been “filler.”

Roll Call had breaking news last night reporting that Congressman Denny Rehberg will announce Saturday that he is challenging Senator Jon Tester in 2012. Rehberg is in his sixth term as Montana’s only Congressman. Tester is in his first term as Montana’s junior senator.

The Western Word was one of the first on Twitter to spread the news from Roll Call. You should really be following me on Twitter! With the temperatures here in Montana at minus 22 and even colder with the wind chill, nothing much warms up a political observer like me than the rumors of a political race.

An early poll conducted in January showed Rehberg with 49-43 lead over Tester. Ironically, I received a call and participated in that poll.

What Makes this Race Interesting?

This will be the premier race in Montana for 2012 even though there’s a Presidential race, a Governor’s race and several other state-wide races. Anyone who wants to volunteer for a political race in 2012 should have many choices in which to devote their time. Candidates will have to get their staffers in line early in hopes to beat other candidates in getting the best political people on their payroll.

There are really two incumbents in this race, so both have the resources. Rehberg is the ultimate campaigner having run for re-election every two years since 2000. They both cover the whole state so name recognition should not be a problem, but Rehberg has been out and about more than Tester, so he is better known and more approachable.

Tester is tied to President Obama. He’s supported Obama a lot in these last two years and Obama could not even win Montana two years ago after pumping millions into the state and visiting here.

Rehberg is one of the better political debaters this state has ever seen and he will not shy away from a one on one debate with Tester. Tester is still trying to get around some of the things he said in 2006 and don’t expect his comments from 2006 to go away anytime soon.

The money from outside the state will be flowing into Montana much like the Missouri River flows through the state.

The ground game will be important. Which candidate can get the volunteers and paid staff on the ground and into the communities spreading the word. There will be “visitors” from all over the country heading to Montana to help their candidate win. If Montana is in play for the Presidential race, look for Montana’s population to grow by a few percent during the last few months before Election Day in November 2012.

Advantage Rehberg:

Realistically Rehberg has the advantage in this race. With unemployment still high; gas prices up to $3.00 per gallon, and the country in much more debt, Tester will have a tough time. The ultimate question has to be, “Are we better off now than we were in 2006?”

This is going to be a great race. If the rumors are true that Rehberg will announce his intentions to run against Tester on Saturday, it all starts then and we’re 21 months out!

Buckle your seatbelts for an interesting ride…