In 2006, a wave year for Democrats, a state senator and wheat farmer named Jon Tester narrowly unseated Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). Six years later, still sporting the same $8 buzz cut, Tester is fighting hard to win a second term against mustachioed Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.). Outside groups have poured $12 million and counting into attack ads against both candidates — money that has gone far in Montana's cheap media market, flooding the airwaves with 45,000 spots from June to mid-September. Pearl Jam has even campaigned for Tester (his barber is bassist Jeff Ament's father). And still, the race remains one of the closest in the nation.
Sen. Jon Tester (D)
Rep. Denny Rehberg (R)
Montana's sole U.S. congressman since 2001
Tester and Rehberg have both been running against Washington, trying to out-Montana each other by touting their independence and the votes they've taken against President Obama (Tester) and House GOP leaders (Rehberg). Rehberg's campaign is focused on tying Tester to Obama — "You're running against me," Tester told Rehberg in an Oct. 8 debate. "You're not running against President Obama" — while Tester has hammered Rehberg for working as a Washington lobbyist, suing the Billings fire department, failing to get the House to pass a farm bill, and taking 15 congressional junkets to France, Austria, the South Pacific, and other pleasant destinations. In order to pull off a win in this reliably red state, Tester will have to rely on ticket-splitting Mitt Romney voters and a decent showing for Libertarian candidate Dan Cox.
REAL CLEAR POLITICS POLL AVERAGE
Rehberg: 46.0 percent
Tester: 44.3 percent
(See the full data here.)
CASH ON HAND (as of Sept. 30):
Tester: $1.3 million on hand; $11.7 million total
Rehberg: $1.7 million on hand; $8.1 million total
Jon Tester: "The American Way"
Denny Rehberg: "Actions"
More races at a glance:
Massachusetts Senate: Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren
Nebraska Senate: Deb Fischer vs. Bob Kerrey
North Dakota Senate: Rick Berg vs. Heidi Heitkamp
Connecticut Senate: Linda McMahon vs. Chris Murphy
Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.