An odd article in the Washington Post this morning suggests that Conrad Burns is bouncing back in the Senate race, despite being lower in the polls than he was six months ago.
The author, Blaine Harden, seemed unaware that the Republican primary is just for show, arguing that Burns emerged from Friday’s debate in Billings with no wounds from the Abramoff affair. Someone a bit more aware of Montana politics might have informed Mr. Harden that one of the candidates in the primary is just positioning himself for another race while the other just seems to want a break from auto sales. Of course, no punches were landed–no one’s fighting in this race.
Harden then argues that the charges against Burns haven’t stuck:
There is a perception among political analysts, based on recent polls, that sizable numbers of Republicans, independents and conservative Democrats have swallowed the disturbing news about Burns and Abramoff, but no longer have indigestion.
I’m not sure what polls these guys are looking at, but the 2nd lowest favorable/unfavorable rating in the Senate and being one of only two Senators with disapproval ratings over 50% suggests that the Montana public is still pretty sick of Conrad.
The article does point out one issue that I think will be critical for Montana Democrats in this race: convincing the voters that Burns has acted any differently than most politicians. The article fortuitously found a man named Rick Hill, who offered some insight that Democrats will need to keep in mind:
When he heard last fall that Burns had taken money from and done favors for Abramoff, Hill said he laughed out loud. “They all do it,” he said. “They all take the money.”
It’s not going to be enough to keep reminding Montana voters that Burns is corrupt, or even that he took money. We need to make the case that his corruption hurts Montanans. We need to make the case clear that when a Senator (or any public official) is beholden to special interests in the way Burns has been, that Montana and her citizens will always come in second. Many people just don’t trust any politician; we need them to see that Conrad’s actions go beyond their often appropriate mistrust.
Given the likely glacially slow pace of the Justice Department investigation, we’re going to live or die on that argument–not an indictment. That is, unless you believe the most politicized Justice Department in history will threaten sitting Republican senators during a race that could turn the Congress back over to the Democrats. Yeah, I don’t think so, either.
Note: I’m pretty sure that the article got Craig Wilson’s name wrong, too.