Leah Barkoukis
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The Senate race in Montana remains a toss-up between Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, the state’s lone congressman, and Sen. Jon Tester, a first-term Democrat. The Big Sky Country has a split-ticket voting history, with the state leaning Republican when it comes to the presidential race but more Democratic in Senate and Gubernatorial races.

Rehberg is a fifth generation rancher, Tester a third-generation farmer. With these backgrounds, both are playing the ‘who is more Montana’ card, touting their own Western creds (like with this unusual ad featuring talking animals) while attempting to link their opponents to Beltway politics and President Obama, who’s unpopular in the state. The most recent Mason-Dixon poll had Romney up 9 points in the state, 51-42. The same poll had Rehberg up 3 points, 48-45, although the difference is within the margin of error.

Team Rehberg doesn’t miss an opportunity to highlight Tester’s anti-coal agenda, his voting record with regard to Obamacare and the stimulus, and according to a Crossroads GPS ad, siding with the president “95 percent of the time.” The same ad concludes that, “Tester has gone Washington.” Rehberg’s campaign also paints Tester as a hypocrite on many issues but chief among them is for saying in 2006: “I won’t sell you down the road by cutting deals with K Street lobbyists.” Yet, that’s exactly what he did.

While the polls look encouraging for Rehberg, Republicans will need to keep hammering the link between Tester and Obama in the remaining month. The New York Times writes that with Obama at the top of the ticket,  “Mr. Tester will need a good chunk of Mitt Romney voters to split his way, including some members of his own wife’s family, who vote Republican.” There’s also another strategy, however, and the Democrats are beginning to pursue it: Get Republicans to cast their vote for the Libertarian candidate Dan Cox instead of Rehberg.

A polling call targeting likely Rehberg voters promotes Cox as the real constitutional conservative in the race. The pollster isn’t identifying which group is behind the call.

Kathy Means, an “actively involved” voter from Florence, said she became suspicious when the pollster kept trying to persuade her to pick Cox over Rehberg. She said the pollster pointed out Rehberg’s past support for the Patriot Act and other sensitive issues for libertarian-minded conservatives.

“This does not sound like a typical polling thing, it just sounded like they were trying to get me to not vote for Rehberg,” Means said. “I started pressing them for more information on who they represented, and then they hung up.”

So-called “push polls” can be used to negatively portray a candidate in an effort to push voters to another candidate.

The Rehberg campaign called the poll a deceptive tactic. Spokesman Chris Bond said they suspect some third-party Tester ally is behind it.

In the battle to take back the Senate, Montana’s race is one to keep a close eye on. 

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Leah Barkoukis

Leah Barkoukis is the Assistant Editor at Townhall.com/Townhall Magazine.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography