PPP's newest Montana Senate poll finds that the seat could be competitive next year...but Republicans are probably going to need a stronger candidate than Corey Stapleton or Champ Edmunds.
Max Baucus has a 45/48 approval rating, upside down numbers that reflect what we've found for him over most of the last couple years. Nevertheless Baucus would start out with pretty large leads over both Stapleton (45/38) and Edmunds (47/37) who have shown the greatest interest in the race to date.
Baucus would be in trouble if a stronger Republican candidate got into the contest though. He would trail by 5 point margins to both Congressman Steve Daines (49/44) and former Governor Marc Racicot (47/42). He would have a small lead over Attorney General Tim Fox (46/43).
The biggest threat to Baucus might actually be in a primary. Former Governor Brian Schweitzer would lead him 54/35 in a face off. Democratic voters like Baucus (76/18 approval) but he can't match up to Schweitzer's popularity with the party base (86/9 favorability). Schweitzer's up across the ideological spectrum of the party, leading by 34 with 'very liberal' voters, 17 with 'somewhat liberal' ones, and 15 with moderates.
Schweitzer would be a stronger general candidate than Baucus. He leads Stapleton by 10 at 49/39 and Edmunds by 15 at 52/37. It would still be competitive even with Schweitzer as the nominee if a top tier Republican ran though- he would lead Daines only 48/45 and start out just behind Racicot at 46/45. He leads Fox by 6 points in a hypothetical match up at 49/43.
There's a lot to sort out about who's going to run but for now it looks like Schweitzer would be a stronger candidate than Baucus, he can probably be the candidate if he wants to be, and the GOP has the potential to make this race close but would probably need a stronger candidate than Stapleton or Edmunds to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Full results here