2012 here we come! Senate race to be a bruiser

tester rehberg

Roll Call beat Congressman Denny Rehberg to the punch last night, reporting that the six-term Republican would announce his bid for the U.S. Senate on Saturday.

Quoting an unnamed source in the Rehberg camp, the article stated:

“It’s happening Saturday,” said a knowledgeable Montana GOP political operative. “He’s running. There is a lot of support and enthusiasm back home, and Denny knows he can win.”

“The operative offered some internal Rehberg polling numbers showing the Montana Republican in a statistical tie with Tester in a prospective 2012 matchup.”

Rehberg’s campaign is mum on the issue, but you can read between the lines in this statement from Rehberg spokesman Brian Barrett:

“Denny has received a lot of support and encouragement to run for the United States Senate in 2012.  He is weighing all of his options carefully and will announce his decision Saturday.”

UPDATE: I just received this statement from Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy:

“Jon is running for another opportunity to serve Montana in the U.S. Senate, not against anyone. He looks forward to comparing his record of the past four years with any challenger. Jon’s known for creating jobs, cutting spending and working together with his colleagues to get substantive things done for Montanans, and nobody is going to outwork him. We look forward to beginning an honest debate following the 2012 primary a year and a half from now.”

Montana’s Primary Election is Tuesday, June 5, 2012.

FrankeWilmerMeanwhile, back in Helena, Rep. Franke Wilmer, D-Bozeman, a political science professor at Montana State University, announced she plans to seek Rehberg’s (presumed) open seat. If elected, Wilmer would be the first woman to hold that seat since Jeannette Rankin.

In an interview with Capitol reporters this afternoon, Wilmer, a three-term member of the House,  said she considered running for Congress a decade ago. She said she has the experience, qualifications and the common sense ideals to be an effective legislator in Washington, D.C.

Wilmer said her campaign will be built around three major themes:

1) Reducing the Deficit – “There are some good bi-partisan ideas out there. This is not a partisan issue.”

2) Health Care – “If health care reform is going to be declared unconstitutional then we’ve got to get on with the program and fix it because we need it.”

3) Energy: “Montanans don’t like having to make a tradeoff between developing new energy and protecting our natural resources. It’s shouldn’t be one or the other.”

Wilmer said her decision to seek the House seat hinged, in part, on whether Rehberg would stay in the race:

“It’s hard to beat an incumbent that has such widespread support. I don’t know if I’d want to push that rock up hill.”

As far as I know, no one else is publically talking about running for Congress on the Democrats’ side, but apparently at least a handful of state lawmakers are testing the waters.  It’s unlikely that Rehberg will face any serious primary opposition from a Republican.

dainesBozeman Businessman Steve Daines, who ran for Lieutenant Governor on a failed gubernatorial ticket in 2008, announced in November  that he would run against Tester.  However, a  Montana GOP  insider told me then that  Daines was prepared to step aside from the senate race if Rehberg decided to throw his hat in the ring. In that scenario Daines would then run for Rehberg’s House seat, the source said.

Thus it came as no surprise to see this statement from Daines’ campaign in my e-mail inbox this morning:

“U.S. Senate candidate Steve Daines will make a major campaign announcement Thursday February 3rd.”

Will Daines announce he his switching races to run for the House?

Most likely. Stay tuned.

Now that Roll Call spilled the beans about Rehberg’s plans the story has gone national. Political guru’s are already handicapping the Tester/Rehberg race and it’s possible implications for the Senate in 2012. According to the Cook Political Report, via Jennifer Rubin at WaPo:

Rehberg’s entry vaults this contest that had been in the Likely Democratic column to Toss Up, bringing the total number of Democratic-held seats in that column to five. Sens. Ben Nelson (NE), Jim Webb (VA) and Joe Manchin (WV) as well as the open seat in North Dakota are already in the Toss Up column. . .

Speculation over Rehberg’s 2012 plans has been rampant for years. I think it’s safe to say that most political insiders for quite some time expected Rehberg would challenge first-term Tester. After all, Rehberg was the only Republican to ever come within striking distance of Max Baucus, losing to Montana’s senior senator by a mere 5 percent of the vote in 1996, and he’s been politically untouchable in his six House races winning by wide margins in each.

Rehberg fueled speculation about a possible Senate run throughout his 2010 reelection campaign, where he spent almost as much time attacking Tester as he did his opponent in the race, Democrat Dennis McDonald. Rehberg held some 23 “public listening sessions” on Tester’s signature piece of legislation, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, throughout his campaign. At a debate in Bozeman, Rehberg not-so-subtly attacked Tester for the way in which the proposed legislation was created: 

“I want to point out the difference between collaboration and consensus. (Tester’s bill) was a collaboration effort. Those were selected people that came together around a table and decided and then wanted to go out and try to convince everybody else it was a great idea. That’s different than consensus. Consensus is actually getting out now before the legislation is introduced and sitting down and listening to them.” 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was the first group to rush to Tester’s defense on Tuesday.

DSCC Communications Director Eric Schultz released the following statement:

“Congressman Rehberg has been in Washington for ten years and has nothing to show for it. He’s got a record long on spending but short on accomplishments. Rehberg has taken on 9/11 heroes and sued Montana firefighters. Montanans rejected the last career politician who took on the firefighters, and we expect them to ultimately do the same this time.”

The Montana Democratic Party was also quit to attack, bringing up, predictably, a certain boating crash on Flathead Lake:

“This is turning out to be one of the worst-kept secrets in Montana,” said Ted Dick, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party. “Despite his near-fatal boat accident with a drunk driver, his frivolous lawsuit against Montana firefighters, years of deficit spending and voting against Montana, and an embarrassing record of, well, nothing, Dennis Rehberg wants a new job. He’s going to have a tough two years ahead of him explaining to Montanans why he deserves it.”

Let the fireworks fly!

Political insiders tell me they expect a flurry of news in the coming days regarding the 2012 elections, including the possibility of other candidates jumping into the race.