-Rick Hill is the early choice of Montana Republicans to be their nominee for Governor next year. 35% pick him to 15% for Neil Livingstone, 11% for Jeff Essmann, 6% for Ken Miller, 2% for Ryan Zinke, and 1% each for Corey Stapleton and Jim O'Hara.
Hill's lead likely has a lot to do with name recognition. 43% of primary voters have an opinion about him compared to 24% for Essmann and 21% for Miller. We didn't look at Livingstone's favorability on this poll but in November he was at 12% recognition with GOP voters. It's safe to say that Zinke, Stapleton, and O'Hara are even less well known. It's not fair to Hill to say that his early lead is meaningless- 20 points is pretty substantial- but it's certainly susceptible to change as voters become more familiar with their other choices.
-It's hard to make too much out of the numbers on the House side for the Republicans, where 64% of voters remain undecided. Still it's good news for the GOP that Steve Daines, a more establishment sort of candidate, has an early 22-14 lead over John Abarr, who is associated with the Ku Klux Klan. The House candidates make the Governor candidates look like celebrities in comparison- Daines 'leads' the way in name recognition at 20% with Abarr at only 10%.
-Steve Bullock will be the favorite in the Democratic primary if he decides to enter the race for Governor. 40% say he's their top choice to 27% for prospective candidate John Bohlinger. The rest of the Democrats running lag significantly- 7% for Dave Wanzenried, 4% for Jim Lynch, and 2% each for Carl Borgquist and Larry Jent.
You can't ascribe Bullock's advantage over Bohlinger to name recognition- 59% of primary voters have an opinion about him compared to 63% for the Lieutenant Governor. Even Wanzenried is better known than most of the GOP contenders, with 40% of Democrats familiar with him.
In a bit of a surprising twist given that Bohlinger is a Republican he actually leads Bullock 38-34 with 'very liberal' voters. Bullock's advantage comes from the middle- he's up 44-23 with 'somewhat liberal' voters' and 41-30 with moderates.
-Looking way ahead to the 2014 election Brian Schweitzer would crush Max Baucus in a primary contest if Montana Democrats went to the polls today, 51-34. The general perception is that if this race happened Schweitzer would rely on support from the left to defeat Baucus for being too much of a centrist. That's not actually how the numbers play out though. Schweitzer leads across the ideological spectrum but his biggest advantage is with moderates at 28 points (55-27), followed by a 12 point advantage with 'somewhat liberal' ones at 50-38 and then 11 points leads with 'very liberal' (52-41) and 'somewhat conservative' (44-33) voters. It's the middle that's most driving Schweitzer's edge on Baucus.
It's worth noting that Democrats don't actually dislike Baucus. His approval with them is a perfectly respectable 70/23 spread. They just like Schweitzer a lot more, with his numbers breaking down at 81/14. It seems unlikely this political dream match up would ever really occur but if it did Schweitzer would begin as the favorite.
Full results here