HELENA — In Montana’s high-profile, big-money U.S. Senate contest, Republican challenger Denny Rehberg continues to hold a slight lead over Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a new Gazette State Poll shows.
The poll showed 49 percent for Rehberg, who is Montana’s U.S. House representative, and 45 percent for Tester, the first-term incumbent. Only 1 percent said they’re voting for Libertarian Dan Cox and just 5 percent were undecided.
Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C., conducted the poll early last week for the Gazette State Bureau, interviewing 625 registered Montana voters who said they are likely to vote in Tuesday’s election.
The poll has an error margin of plus or minus four percentage points.
Rehberg’s lead is only a single percentage point different than what he had six weeks ago in a Gazette State Poll, which showed him with a 48-45 advantage over Tester.
“Rehberg’s just kind of kept that little lead on Tester,” said Brad Coker, managing director for Mason-Dixon. “The general rule is it’s harder for an incumbent to make up ground with undecided voters. Here, you have two incumbents.”
Coker also said the low showing for Libertarian Cox is not unusual.
“In a high-profile race like this, I don’t think people are inclined to waste their votes,” he said. “When your vote could have an effect on the race, I think most people are less inclined to throw it out, unless they’re true Libertarians.”
In the past week, a group sympathetic to Tester has financed TV ads telling voters to support Cox.
The Tester-Rehberg matchup has lived up to all expectations of being a close, hard-fought and expensive battle. The candidates have raised and spent about $20 million between themselves, and outside groups on both sides have spent at least another $10 million and probably much more, political observers have said.
Rehberg and his allies have relentlessly criticized Tester as a shill for President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in the state. Tester has fought back by saying he’s an independent voice for Montana who can work both sides of the aisle, while trying to portray Rehberg as a conservative ideologue who wants to cut popular government programs.
The poll showed strong support for Rehberg in Billings and Eastern Montana. The two men were virtually even in the Great Falls and Missoula-Kalispell areas, but Tester held a solid edge in the Butte-Helena area.
Rehberg also led among men who were polled, by 52 percent to 42 percent, and independents, 47 percent to 40 percent. Women were evenly split between the candidates, with 47 percent for each.
Among those polled, self-identified Democrats and Republicans were almost unanimously for their respective candidate.
The poll also showed Rehberg and Tester with nearly identical positives and negatives. Both men had a positive rating from 42 percent of those surveyed, while Rehberg had a negative rating from 40 percent, and Tester had a negative rating from 43 percent.