Saturday, November 13, 2010

The 2012 Montana Senate Election: It's ON.

Attended Steve Daines' announcement for the U.S. Senate today to help the local television with commentary. Daines is a native Montanan, and co-founder of RightNow technologies--one of Bozeman's major employers. In reviewing Daines' materials, it's the standard "I'm an outsider, government is too big, and I've created jobs" that one might expect, especially after the success of this type of message in the 2010 midterm elections. In many ways, I suspect the campaign will be similar to Ron Johnson's successful campaign in Wisconsin. Johnson ran against, and defeated, three-term incumbent Russ Feingold.

I was asked if Daines has a chance. Well, of course he does--the question is whether that chance is substantial. In political science, we term challengers as quality or not. Quality is generally defined as having experience in elected office. These candidates generally have the best chance of beating an incumbent--which is a tall order indeed. However, some candidates without elected office experience are classified as "ambitious amateurs" (see Canon 1990). These candidates may not have elected office experience, but they behave strategically like experienced candidates. They generally have decent name recognition and financial resources, and they make the decision to run strategically.

The incumbent senator, Jon Tester, is running in his first reelection campaign. The best chance of beating an incumbent is when they run in their first reelection campaign. So, if Tester is to beaten, this is the time to do it. Daines is acting strategically by choosing to take Tester on now. And, he's acting early enough to get his name out there and to clear the field of other prospective challengers.

Daines narrative is might compelling in an environment with high unemployment and discontent with incumbents. He's certainly taps into the Tea Party skepticism of larger and bigger government. Tester, of course, can be tagged with some unpopular votes.

Tester, however, has other advantages that should not be dismissed. He is the incumbent. He is a native Montanan. He is a rancher and a farmer. He is pro-gun and a conservative Democrat. It will be hard, methinks, to paint him as an Obama/Pelosi Democrat. And the election is two years away. The economy might improve--and the electorate voting in 2012 will be very different from the one turning out in 2010. All of things bode well for Tester in defending his seat.

Nevertheless, if Daines is the nominee, we can expect a lot of money to be spent by both sides in 2012. Lots of television ads, lots of voter outreach--a rich information environment to help reduce the costs of voting and get more people involved/interested. I can't wait to watch this unfold.

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