Thursday, January 26, 2012

Montana Senate Race: Final 2011 Fundraising numbers coming in...

Senator Jon Tester continues to raise substantial sums in his reelection campaign. In the final FEC reporting quarter for 2011, he raised more than $1 million--as he has every quarter during the year. Read the story here.

When Congressman Denny Rehberg's numbers are available, I'll post that information.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Keystone and the Montana Senate Race

Yesterday, the White House announced that it is rejecting the proposed Keystone pipeline project (read the story here). Keystone was to carry oil generated from Canadian tar sands across the mid-section of the United States to refineries in Texas. The pipeline promised to create a large number of construction jobs and reduce American dependence on Middle Eastern oil, but objections were raised by environmental organizations concerned about the pipeline crossing a major aquifer in Nebraska and the huge carbon footprint caused by tar sands extraction procedures. In particular, the pipeline split two key interest groups important to the Democratic Party: unions, interested in the construction jobs, and environmental organizations interested in moving away from fossil fuels.

The pipeline was set to cross Montana, and--generally speaking--has received widespread support from both Democrats and Republicans in the state. Both Senator Tester and Congressman Rehberg have expressed support for the pipeline project, and both quickly released official statements expressing their disappointment about the Obama Administration's decision.

Senator Tester released the following statement on the Keystone decision:

“I am disappointed in the President’s decision. Just as I have supported Montana’s renewable energy jobs, I have long supported responsibly building this pipeline with the highest safety standards and with respect for private property rights. Oil, coal, natural gas, wind, geothermal and biofuels all provide good jobs in Montana. I will continue to champion Montana’s role in securing America’s energy future.”

Congressman Rehberg's official statement was a bit more forceful. It reads in part:

"Today’s shameful decision by President Obama to put his re-election ahead of thousands of jobs for American families shows just how much this Administration and its allies have bought into the radical anti-job agenda of environmental extremists like the League of Conservation Voters."

The campaign reaction has been a bit different. Congressman Rehberg's campaign released, in part, the following statement:

"Today's job-killing decision by Tester's allies in the Obama Administration hands a victory to the radical environmental obstructionists who bankroll Tester's re-election campaign, and strikes a harsh blow to Montana workers and families who would have benefited from thousands of pipeline jobs and a projected $7.5 million in revenues added to Montana's state treasury."

The Rehberg folks have been attempting to tie Tester to an unpopular Democratic president and his administration in an effort to show that Senator Tester is not, as political scientist Dick Fenno would term it, "one of us" but "one of them". In particular, they cite a statistic saying that Senator Tester has sided with the Obama administration 97 percent of the time (based on an analysis by Congressional Quarterly of Senate votes in 2010). More on all of this in an upcoming post.

The Tester campaign's response to the Rehberg campaign's press release? Aaron Murphy, Tester's spokesman, replied in an e-mail sent to reporters covering the campaign:

"Congressman Rehberg is the only member of Montana's congressional delegation who has voted against the Keystone XL pipeline. In other words, he "failed to stop himself from blocking Montana jobs.

On Tuesday, December 20, Congressman Rehberg followed orders from his party bosses and voted against the Keystone XL pipeline, and against a tax holiday for working families (read more HERE)."

The Tester campaign has been attempting to show how Congressman Rehberg looks out for himself and represents the interests of the Republican Party nationally, not Montana. Rehberg is "not one of us" but "one of them"--a tool of the Republican Party bosses. Senator Tester, according to this narrative, is an independent, bipartisan voice for the state. The Tester campaign pushes back, saying that Senator Tester is his own man and not beholden to President Obama, noting the instances where he has broken from the administration and national Democrats (e.g, the administration's job bill or the DREAM Act).

This is what we call framing in the business. Campaigns seek to advance particular narratives and discuss events in terms of that narrative. What is interesting in the Montana Senate race is how important it is in a rural, agricultural state like Montana to be perceived as "one of us" by the voters. Politics is about identities, and the identity of who is most like Montanans is an important point that the campaigns have contested from the very beginning of this race. Part of being "one of us" is making decisions that a regular Montanan would make in Washington. And both campaigns claim that they do a better job of doing on Capitol Hill what the average Montanan would want.

Both campaigns responded to the Keystone decision rapidly, and Montana Republican Party has even sent out an e-mail in an attempt to raise funds. Both sides used the opportunity to return to their core narratives of who is doing the best job in Washington and who has Montana's interests best at heart.

It should be noted that the Obama administration did not cancel the project on the merits, but argued that the 60-day deadline imposed by Congress did not allow for a full review of the project. The Canadian company can apply for a permit again, but the delay will certainly prevent any construction jobs from going online before the fall election.

Which version of the events will Montanans find most credible? That's for the voters to decide, and we'll find out over the next 11 months.