Two out of ten U.S. Senate offices in the Pacific Northwest are being contested this election cycle. One is in Montana. The other, of course, is in Washington. Democrats are leading both races.
Democrat John Tester is leading incumbent Republican Conrad Burns in the Big Sky in what is a referendum on Burns (and Bush). The Republicans have promised to spend $10 million in the state, and Tester hopes to match it.
That's more than $20 per person -- and who knows how much per vote, since the electorate will be plenty turned off by November. Last cycle, Tom Daschle and John Thune conducted a media- and mail-a-thon in South Dakota and did little more for the Republic than give folks plenty of fire starter for the winter.
Burns is directly connected to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Abramoff said he and his staff were cozy with the Burns office, in a relationship that paid off in appropriations for clients.
Burns campaign has imploded mostly, however, on a series of gaffes and blunders, some of which are as embarrassing to Montanans as the corruption. Conrad lost it in front of a -- get this, in a post 9/11 world -- a group of firefighters. He attacked them for not doing their jobs effectively.
Late last month, Burns called on the governor (rising Democrat Brian Schweitzer) to call a state of emergency for an ongoing fire. The Governor had done that a full month earlier.
Then he implied his house painter, "a nice little Guatemalan man," might be illegal. His comment that the war on terror is a fight against those who "drive taxicabs in the daytime and kill at night," was ....
So it is Tester's race to lose, and he is showing no signs of doing that. In particular, to my mind, is his turning the tax question to appropriate advantage by attacking Burns for his tax hikes on education.
Tester's ‘Higher Education, Deeper Debt’ report shows the consequences of Sen. Burns’ tax increases on Montana students and their families.
Burns and other Republicans in the last budget cycle voted to cut student loan programs by $12.7 billion, ended tuition tax credits, and froze the maximum Pell Grant, the leading college scholarship program. This came at a time when the cost of tuition at Montana colleges and elsewhere is skyrocketing. Real tax increases on reall people.
Tester is a onetime public-school teacher and current president of the Montana Senate. He sports a flattop haircut and drives a pickup truck. ("Special interests will never hitch a ride in this truck).
And he currently works a farm of 1,800 acres. He was drawn into politics eight years ago as a result of the electricity deregulation fiasco which enriched Enron and gouged several Western states. Hopefully another Democrat in the Senate will mean an end to that kind of corporate feeding frenzy on America.
Should both Cantwell and Tester be elected, the Northwest's representation will be split between Democrats and Republicans.
Two Democrats from Washington, two from Montana, and one from Oregon. In the next cycle (2008) incumbents who will have to face the voters include Republican Larry Craig in Idaho, Gordon Smith in Oregon, and Ted Stevens in Alaska, along with Democrat Max Baucus in Montana.