Final Thoughts on the Tester-Burns Race

As we come to the homestretch of the Senate campaign, I thought I’d offer my last take on the race, for what it is worth. I’m not willing to make public predictions, largely for the same reason that I don’t watch critical moments when the Padres play–I don’t want to be responsible for jinxing anyone. The most I will say is this–it’s going to be close tomorrow, but the Tester campaign has done everything it can to win this race. That said, here’s my take on some of the positives and negatives of each of the campaigns.

The Burns Campaign Positives

  • He hasn’t been indicted yet.
  • I think the tax ads have been effective at planting some doubt in the minds of voters.
  • The pork. It’s been upsetting to listen to the Senator try to buy my vote with my tax money, but local papers have definitely helped Burns get the word out. I think fear of losing federal funding (as unwarranted as that might be) will be the biggest factor explaining the undecided and leaning voters who end up voting for Burns. 
  • The media seemed to feel more than a little sorry for him at times.


  • Burns’s inability to say the right thing: The firefighter incident, the secret plan in Iraq, the faceless cab drivers all suggest a man badly out of touch.
  • Not choosing Bob Keenan to run in Burns’s place. Look, Keenan is a jackass, but he would have been a better candidate in this race for the Republicans.
  • The third party ads have been disastrous for Burns. Whether it’s been the ad calling the senior Senator Backus or the Patriot Act ad, Burns has come across as desperate with each attack ad.
  • Agreeing to debate as many times as he did. Each debate saw Burns looking more foolish and less connected to Montanans.
  • Oh, and being  cheap, political hack. That can’t have helped.


The Tester Campaign Positives

  • The most positive thing about the Tester campaign was the candidate. We finally chose someone that working Montanans could relate to.
  • A strong, centrist campaign that didn’t betray his progressive ideals. There’s a lot of talk about the new breed of Western Democrat, and Tester seems to fit the mold. He’s to my right on a number of issues, but the truth is to get elected in Montana, he needs to be. Despite this, he’s managed to fire up progressives in Montana in way that I can’t remember a candidate, even Schweitzer, doing.
  • Excellent communication with supporters, combined with a genuine sense of appreciation for their contributions.
  • An aggressive research team looking into Burns’s claims, in debates, and ads. It’s a lesson often forgotten by Democrats. We need to hit back hard–and immediately when false/misleading claims come down.
  • Schweitzer.
  • Baucus. I’m astonished to admit this, but I loved the Baucus ad at the end of the campaign.


  • Too much time in the last few weeks on the sales tax issue. Though Burns certainly did support it, neither the newspapers nor the public believed that, and the issue hurt Tester’s credibility.
  • The DSCC ads, especially the firefighters ad. I think the late slide in Tester’s numbers can be attributed to the negative ads. The papers were doing the work of letting voters know what kind of person and Senator Burns was; in a sense, I think those true stories lost some of their impact after the ads.
  • Not enough clarity on his positions. I spoke to a number of people who were concerned that Tester didn’t have a positive legislative agenda–and were concerned that the whole campaign was flat tops and Abramoff. The agenda is—and was—there, but didn’t get the attention it deserved.

Stan Jones

  • Easy. Not enough talk about the Amero.
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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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