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Rehberg sees challenges ahead after winning new term
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., gives his victory speech at the Holiday Inn Grand Montana in Billings on Tuesday after being re-elected.

HELENA - U.S. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., easily won a fifth consecutive term as Montana's only congressman Tuesday, defeating Democrat John Driscoll, who chose to campaign without raising or spending any money.

With 78 percent of the precincts reporting, Rehberg had 65 percent of the vote, while Driscoll had 32 percent. Libertarian Mike Fellows had the remaining 3 percent.

Rehberg opened up an early lead with the initial returns and steadily added to it as the night went on.

Yet while Rehberg is headed back to Washington, he said Tuesday night that it will be "a little tougher" with big Democratic majorities in Congress next year and a Democratic president.

"I've got my hands full in trying to make them understand Montana's needs," he said. "You play the cards you've been dealt, and I'm looking forward to it."

Driscoll ran a campaign without money and did most of his politicking on the Internet. He appeared at campaign events only when they corresponded with his family's travel plans.

Driscoll said Tuesday night that he appreciated the response he got from many voters, and that he hoped to show that anyone could run for Congress.

"There are a lot of people like me around that would make credible candidates, but it's intimidating going out, hat in hand, and having to raise huge amounts of money," he said. "Maybe this opens the way for others to decide what terms they would decide on, in running for office. I think just being yourself is the best way."

The former state legislator and public service commissioner had called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and a revamped national energy policy, moving away from fossil fuels.

Rehberg also campaigned hard on the energy issues, saying he'll push for "all of the above": development of oil, gas, coal, wind, geothermal, nuclear and other forms of power.

He said Tuesday night that he will focus on energy and water issues that he thinks can benefit Montana.

Rehberg also was one of the few political bright spots for Republicans in Montana on Tuesday, as Democrats won the governorship and U.S. Senate race and led in several other state office races.

As the highest-ranking Republican in the state, Rehberg said he looks forward to rebuilding the party.

"This all goes in cycles," he said. "We did the best we could with the resources we had. We certainly didn't have the resources that Democrats had in Montana this year."

Rehberg, 53, has been involved in Republican politics in Montana since the late 1970s, when he was an aide to then-U.S. Rep. Ron Marlenee, who represented Montana's old eastern district.

Rehberg was a state legislator from Billings in the 1980s, managed Conrad Burns' upset victory in the 1988 U.S. Senate race, served as lieutenant governor from 1991 to 1996 and won the U.S. House seat in 2000, defeating Democrat Nancy Keenan.

While usually espousing conservative, free-market principles, Rehberg occasionally has opposed President Bush on some high-profile issues, such as voting to override the president's 2007 veto of an expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program. The override effort failed.

He hasn't faced a difficult re-election challenge since winning the House seat.

State Democrats had hoped to mount a vocal challenge of Rehberg this year with Helena attorney Jim Hunt, but Hunt lost the June 3 Democratic primary in a stunning upset to Driscoll.

Political observers speculated that Driscoll's name recognition may have carried the day against the little-known Hunt, who had not run for office before.

Driscoll, 62, has a political track record dating to the mid-1970s. He was a state legislator from Hamilton from 1973 to 1979, including a stint as speaker of the Montana House in 1977, and he served as public service commissioner representing southwest Montana from 1981 to 1992.

He has also run for federal office before, challenging U.S. Sen. Max Baucus in Democratic primaries four times since 1978.

Fellows, 50, has run for Montana's U.S. House seat five times since 1998 and also ran for secretary of state in 2000. He's one of several Libertarians who routinely run for statewide office in Montana, usually garnering 1 percent to 3 percent of the vote.