When PPP first tested the Montana Senate race last November Denny Rehberg led Jon Tester by 2 points, 48-46. When PPP tested it in June Rehberg again led Tester by 2 points, 47-45. And when PPP looked at the contest this week Rehberg led Tester by...you guessed it...2 points, 47-45. This is the most stable race PPP has ever polled and quite a marked contrast to the wild Republican Presidential contest.
Tester trails despite the fact that he's actually more popular than Rehberg. 46% of voters approve of the job he's doing to 42% who disapprove. Meanwhile Rehberg is under water with 41% of voters approving of him and 47% disapproving. Tester leads 46-41 with independents. But Montana's a Republican state and Tester's winning only 10% of the GOP vote, while losing an equal 10% of the Democratic vote to Rehberg. Tester's either going to have to win independent voters by a wider margin or pick up more Republicans if he's going to get reelected.
Interestingly both candidates have seen their popularity decline over the 5 months since PPP last polled the state. Tester was at +12 (51/39) and has gone down 8 points to his current +4 standing. That shift has largely come with his own party- what was an 89% approval rating with Democrats is now 80%. He's also dipped from 53% to 45% with independents. But Rehberg's down 5 points as well from -1 (44/45) to his current -6 standing. His drop has come almost entirely with independents, with whom he has only a 30/56 approval rating.
With those numbers, Rehberg is not Tester's biggest obstacle for reelection. That honor probably belongs to Barack Obama. We'll release the full Presidential poll tomorrow, but his approval rating in the state has now dipped to only 39% with 56% of voters disapproving of him. Having such an unpopular President of his party weighing him down will make things tough for Tester. But at least for now this race remains very much a toss up.
With Rehberg's attempt at a promotion Montana's single House seat is open and there we find a generic Republican leading a generic Democrat by a 46-41 margin. The state obviously has a GOP tilt to begin with and independents lean toward voting for a Republican, 37-32, as well. When we polled the actual candidates for the House seat in June we found they were all total unknowns to voters in the state, but the Republicans had a modest advantage in those head to heads as well.
Full results here