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Mountain Region Roundup

Montana Senate Race Is Key to GOP Gaining Control of Chamber




Gov. John Hickenlooper (D)

Electoral Votes: 9
2008 Presidential Vote:
Obama 54%/McCain 45%


3rd district |
Incumbent: Scott Tipton (R)
1st term (50 percent) |
Outlook: Tossup

In a an expected non-wave year, candidates matter.

That is why this slightly Republican district is in the Tossup column. Even Republicans will concede Tipton has work to do to win re-election. Democrats have a top recruit in former state House Minority Leader Sal Pace.

Still, with no Senate race, both candidates will appear directly below the presidential race and will therefore be closely tied to President Barack Obama or Republican nominee Mitt Romney. In a handful of September polls, Obama began to pull out of the margin of error statewide, although some showed that contest tightening. And at least one national Republican strategist predicted that Romney will prevail in the 3rd district.

Internal House polling from both sides gives Tipton a small lead, but as of last week, Pace had yet to go negative in his television advertising. If Pace can get traction, this race will stay Tossup. If not, it is a sign that the district is returning to its Republican roots. In 2008, McCain fell just short here against Obama. But President George W. Bush carried it in 2004 with 55 percent.

Republicans argue that Tipton’s hardest race was his defeat of Rep. John Salazar (D) in 2010, contending his Democratic challenger this year, former Salazar aide Pace, lacks his Salazar’s cross-party appeal. Democrats insist Pace is a strong candidate.

The national campaign committees have reserved more than $5 million of TV time in the Denver market, but it is impossible to know how much either will earmark for this race. Outside groups will have influence as well. As long as the two parties are at spending parity, it will likely be a close race. But if either national party backs out, this race could shift.

6th district | Incumbent: Mike Coffman (R)

1st term (66 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

This race mirrors the 3rd in the fact that it is a Tossup contest in a presidential battleground state with much depending on how the national campaign committees decide to allocate their resources.

But the story of the 6th is that Coffman was the biggest loser in Colorado redistricting. His once-safe Republican district (his predecessor is former GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo) picked up the liberal community of Aurora. Overnight, he was running for re-election in a split district.

The Democratic challenger is state Rep. Joe Miklosi.

Early on, Colorado Democrats privately admitted that while Coffman has a conservative record, he was the better candidate. There was also an obvious sense among Democrats that Miklosi lacked charisma. But that all changed in May, when a video surfaced that showed Coffman making a reference to President Barack Obama’s place of birth.

This is now among the most closely watched House races in the country.

7th district | Incumbent: Ed Perlmutter (D)

3rd term (53 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic

Redistricting and a surprise Republican challenger have made this more of a race than almost anyone on either side of the aisle expected.

What put Rep. Mike Coffman in a jam in the 6th district is the same reason Perlmutter is working harder than anticipated for his re-election. The Democratic-friendly city of Aurora shifted from the 7th to the 6th, complicating Perlmutter’s path to a fourth term.

But the deep pockets of Perlmutter’s GOP challenger, Joe Coors Jr., are also a factor. The scion of the family behind Coors beer has partly self-funded his campaign and, as a result, was able to dominate the airwaves for weeks. It has put Democrats and Perlmutter in a defensive posture.

Perlmutter will probably return to Congress – but the question will be, at what cost to the national party? Republicans, while hoping for victory, are using this race to bleed Democrats of money that they would prefer to spend elsewhere.


Gov. Butch Otter (R)

Electoral Votes: 4
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 62%/Obama 36%


1st district | Incumbent: Raul Labrador (R)

1st term (51 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

It would take a Hail Mary for former NFL wide receiver Jimmy Farris (D) to defeat Labrador in one of the most conservative districts in the country. The freshman is well-funded and likely to cruise to re-
election two years after ousting Democratic incumbent Walt Minnick.


Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D)

Electoral Votes: 3
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 50%/Obama 47%


Incumbent: Jon Tester (D)

1st term (49 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Rep. Denny Rehberg, the top Republican in the state, is challenging Tester in what’s likely to be one of the closest finishes of any Senate race in the country. The contest boils down to whether enough voters are willing to split their ballot by voting for Tester and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who could carry the state by double digits.

It’s highly unlikely Republicans can win the Senate majority without taking this seat. That’s why both national parties’ campaign committees had combined to spend more than $3 million in independent expenditures here by the end of September, a number that doesn’t count loads of third-party spending that has poured in for the past year.

Tester’s early ad campaign featured a barrage of positive spots highlighting his farming roots – showing voters that although the Senator has been on Capitol Hill for six years, he is still the likable guy they chose in 2006 over Republican incumbent Conrad Burns.

Rehberg’s challenge was to bring down Tester’s favorable rating without hurting his own. That’s led to some creative advertising. One spot featured senior citizen identical twins who said it’s as difficult to tell them apart as the records of Tester and President Barack Obama.


At-large | Open Seat: Denny Rehberg (R) is running for Senate.

Outlook: Likely Republican

State Senate Minority Whip Kim Gillan (D) is a solid candidate, but she’s running in a Republican-leaning state in a presidential year, with a smashmouth Senate race overshadowing everything else. That’s why her race against businessman Steve Daines (R) for this statewide seat hasn’t broached the competitive landscape.

Daines, the 2008 lieutenant governor nominee, is also a skilled candidate with a knack for fundraising. Neither national party is expected to invest here, and Daines should outspend Gillan and benefit from a solid win by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Daines initially filed to run for Senate shortly after the 2010 elections, but he switched to the House race a couple of months later when Rehberg announced his Senate campaign.


Gov. Gary Herbert (R)

Electoral Votes: 6
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 63%/Obama 34%


Incumbent: Orrin Hatch (R)

6th term (62 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

After surviving a convention and primary challenge from former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, Hatch may be re-elected by an even larger margin than in 2006. Hatch faces former state Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell (D) in one of the most Republican states in the country.

Hatch has said his seventh term will be his last.


2nd district | New Seat

Outlook: Safe Republican

By taking 60 percent of the delegate vote at the state GOP convention in April, author Chris Stewart avoided a primary and could book his ticket for Washington, D.C. The district, added in reapportionment, leans heavily Republican, so Stewart should easily dispatch with former state Rep. Jay Seegmiller (D).

4th district | Incumbent: Jim Matheson (D)

6th term (51 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Matheson is perhaps the only Democrat in the country capable of winning this
Republican-leaning district. But he’s facing the challenge of a lifetime after being redrawn into a chunk of new territory during the Republican-controlled redistricting process and landing a GOP rising star for an opponent.

Mia Love’s ascension to political stardom during the past nine months has been nothing short of astonishing. The Saratoga Springs mayor won the April nominating convention and avoided a primary despite a crowded field of credible candidates. Her potential to become the first black Republican woman in Congress led to national media coverage of the race and a coveted speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.

The ultimate challenge for Matheson is potentially needing to win over more than 20 percent of voters who will also be casting ballots for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.


Gov. Matt Mead (R)

Electoral Votes: 3
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 65%/Obama 33%


Incumbent: John Barrasso (R)

1st term (73 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Barrasso, who was appointed in June 2007 and then elected in November 2008 to fill the remaining four years of the late Sen. Craig Thomas’ term, should be easily re-elected against Albany County Commissioner Tim Chesnut (D).


At-large | Incumbent: Cynthia Lummis (R)

2nd term (70 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Lummis’ first race in 2008 was competitive, and she won with just 53 percent of the vote, a lackluster total given the state’s conservative bent.

But last cycle, Lummis cruised to re-election by a much more comfortable margin.

She is a safe bet to win a third term against political science professor Chris Henrichsen (D).

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