Montana: For veteran Baucus, it seems to be in the bag

  • Sen. Max Baucus visits a Missoula high school

    Kurt Wilson/NYT Pictures
  • Lt. Gov. Dennis Rehberg campaigns at a Labor Day picnic

    Perry Backus/NYT Pictures
 

In polling, a lot depends on how you ask the questions. And on how you read the answers.

Max 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 lieutenant governor.

But Rehberg sees encouragement in the polls. He said they tell him 61 percent of Montana voters want somebody to replace Baucus.

"They just don't know it's me yet," Rehberg said.

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 May.

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 complicated.

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.

"It's 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 people.

Rehberg opposes the reintroduction of wolves and any limits on guns; he supports the salvage logging rider.

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 administration.

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.

Reform 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.

This article is part of a feature package - about the 1996 election - that includes these other articles:

- Greens prune their message to win the West's voters

- Colorado: Environment wielded like a hammer in tight Senate race

- Utah: A liberal wilderness lover may prevail

- Montana: A scrappy Republican tries to cut down a green Democrat

- California: A 28-year-old talks the talk to green voters

- Washington: Greens storm the suburbs

- Arizona: Harvesting a bumper crop of bombast

- Nevada: Who hates nuclear waste most?

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a motivated individual to help build public support for key strategic initiatives in northern Idaho through public outreach and...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation seeks a steward/educator to lead backcountry volunteer projects and community outreach. FT $36k-$40k, competitive time off. ALSO HIRING OPERATIONS MANAGER. More...
  • ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER
    WANTED: ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER ~ UTAH/COLORADO border ~ Looking to immediately hire an experienced and clean hardworker to join us on a beautiful, very...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.