Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Baucus, a Poll, and High on the Hog--Oh my!

Lots of developments in Montana in the past 48 hours.

First, Senator Max Baucus recently announced that he's running for re-election in 2014 and has purchased $25,000 in radio ads to be aired...wait...THIS WEEK in several markets throughout the state. Read the story here. More on this below.

Second, a new poll is out in the Montana Race that is actually taking place this year shows...wait...A Rehberg lead within the margin of error. Again, the races is: too close to call. Here's that Rasmussen poll (with all the qualifiers from my previous posts about Rasmussen).

Third, AP had an article in Montana papers two days ago slamming both Senator Tester and Congressman Rehberg for living "high on the hog" by staying in fancy hotels and eating expensive meals, which are picked up by their campaign accounts. Read that piece here.

Whew! Where to start? I think we'll start with Montana's senior senator, Max Baucus. According to news accounts, the ad stresses his role in the payroll tax extension and features a testimonial from a prominent Republican businessman.

In an earlier post, I asked whether the Tester television ads were put up too early--and came to the conclusion that they were not. Well, I can certainly say that if Senator Baucus is putting up radio ads in 2012 for an election in 2014, that can only signal trouble. Not that it is a secret...Senator Baucus' approval ratings have been on downward slide since 2008. Last year's Billings Gazette poll found his approval rating at only 38 percent, certainly not encouraging for someone hoping to get reelected. Clearly, the radio ad is meant to stem that downward spiral and help Montanans remember why they've elected him for so long: he has political clout, seniority, and is often the pivotal voter in the Senate. His central position politically is only accentuated by Nebraska Democratic Senator Ben Nelson's impending retirement. Even if Democrats lose the majority, Republicans will not gain a filibuster proof majority--and will be looking to cut deals with conservative Democrats like Baucus.

All of that said, I'm shocked--shocked--that Senator Baucus would insert his reelection into the conversation during an already competitive Senate election. I'm not sure how this benefits Senator Tester--it merely detracts from his media message and his efforts. I'm puzzling through this one and coming up empty.

On the Tester-Rehberg poll, there's not much to be said. The race is close--we already knew that. Perhaps the one thing worth mentioning is this is the first poll taken after the emergence of two Libertarian candidates. And, interestingly, these candidates poll about 6 percent of the vote. Of course, with a margin of error at 4.5 percent, support for a third party candidate could be as low as 1.5 percent or as high as 10.5 percent. But note that only THREE percent of voters did not express a clear choice. Lots of money will be spent trying to help those voters figure things out (and lots of money will be spent making sure those who have already made up their minds get out and vote). Another Montana blogger, James Conner, crunched the numbers in this year's Tester-Rehberg polling and compared them to the Burns-Tester race in 2006. He concludes that the patterns might suggest some concern about Senator Tester's reelection. You can read his analysis here.

Finally, the AP piece on campaign expenditures and reimbursements. The piece essential puts a pox on both Republican and Democratic houses, suggesting neither candidate is the frugal, average guy they purport to be. I guess, as an observer of politics, my reaction was "meh". When individuals travel on business, they get reimbursed for their travel and meals. What's all the fuss about? If a candidate travels on campaign business, they get their expenses reimbursed. Sometimes some expensive meals might happen at a fundraiser. Sometimes the fundraiser is held at a nice hotel to encourage big donors, and you have to pay a large amount for a room in a hotel that is in a good location.

The fuss is, of course, is that both Rehberg and Tester represent Montana. And Montana is a poor state that is not too kind about others making too much money or looking like they have gotten too far ahead of the Joneses. This is especially true when it seems that public figures are profiting from their public position. In another state, this type of story might never have been noticed or even written. But in a state--and in a race--where that "one of us" connection is so important and a contestable point between the candidates, this article seems to suggest that neither Senator Tester nor Congressman Rehberg are as "one of us" as they would have us believe.

Is that a problem? Politically, it might be. While it doesn't bother me much that a member of Congress might have a nice dinner at fundraiser once in a while or stay at a nice hotel, I can see why it might upset folks who can barely make ends meet. And even if though these bills and reimbursements are standard operating procedure in campaigns (and, from my limited experience, they are), one thing that both candidates might do to avoid negative press in the future is to apply the government travel and meals reimbursement limits to their campaign travel, too. At the very least, this would avoid a story like the one that appeared in the paper this morning, which draws attention away from their core themes and messages. In the end, however, the story serves to increase the cynicism of voters and as someone who studies Congress, I'm not sure we need to be doing much of that right now.

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