In polling, a lot depends on how you ask the questions. And on how you read the answers.
Baucus, a Democrat running for his fourth term in the U.S. Senate,
points to polls that have consistently put him 10 or more points
above Republican challenger Dennis Rehberg, Montana's current
But Rehberg sees
encouragement in the polls. He said they tell him 61 percent of
Montana voters want somebody to replace
"They just don't know it's me yet,"
In spite of the challenger's
buoyant attitude, a late-September poll showed Baucus ahead by 14
points - a vast improvement over his 9-point lead in
Rehberg, 40, grew up on a Billings ranch but
has spent most of his adult life working for politicians or in
elected office. He says there is a "direct relationship" between
bigger government and personal misery. And he says that as a U.S.
senator he wants to make government smaller and life less
After 22 years in Washington as
congressman and senator, Baucus has been there too long and is out
of touch with Montanans, Rehberg said. He accuses Baucus of
flip-flopping on issues ranging from wolf reintroduction to gun
control to the balanced budget amendment.
about consistency," Rehberg said. "People want to know what you say
is what you mean." Baucus has changed his positions on the Brady
Bill and on the ban on assault weapons - he now supports both - and
while he supports restoration of wolves in the West, he has
criticized the way federal officials dealt with rural
Rehberg opposes the reintroduction of
wolves and any limits on guns; he supports the salvage logging
Baucus touts his experience and seniority
at every opportunity: his ranking committee seats, his ability to
deliver federal money for Montana projects like interstate highways
and whirling disease research, his influence with the Clinton
The son of a wealthy Helena
ranching family, Baucus is a lawyer who has spent most of his adult
life in politics. While he's a better bet for environmentalists
than his rival, his deep ties to mining keep him from living up to
Rehberg's label of him as a friend of "radical environmentalists."
The incumbent has also raised a lot more money
than has Rehberg. By the end of June he had raised $3.4 million
while Rehberg had raised only $563,000.
Party candidate Becky Shaw could be a factor in a close contest. A
former Baucus aide, she got 21 percent of the vote in the 1994
Democratic primary. Winner Jack Mudd lost to incumbent Republican
Conrad Burns in the general election that year.