New Poll Shows Bullock Leading Daines In Montana Senate Race

May 7, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem
Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock speaks at the National Press Club in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

A new poll released on Tuesday by Montana State University puts Democratic Governor Steve Bullock seven points ahead of Republican Senator Steve Daines in the state’s Senate race.

In the online poll, which surveyed 738 registered voters, more than 46% of respondents said they’d pick Bullock, while 39% said they’d support Daines. The poll’s margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.6 percentage points.

The results foreshadow a tight race in Montana, which could become another pickup for Democrats as they try to flip the upper chamber this fall.

So far, polling has shown close Senate races in the Republican-held states of Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina, dubbed “the core four” by some pollsters. To regain control of the upper chamber, Democrats will need to pick up three or four of those seats in November. At least one Democrat, Senator Doug Jones in Alabama, is at risk of losing a seat.

“If Democrats wanted to expand beyond what we’re calling the core four states, Montana would probably be the best prospect for a pickup,” says Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political newsletter.

Bullock, who is wrapping up his second term as Montana governor, may have gotten a boost in the polls from his handling of the coronavirus crisis. “During these times of crisis, governors tend to be the most visible people in the state,” says Coleman. 

The MSU poll shows that 70% of respondents approve of Bullock’s response to the pandemic. Daines’ approval for his handling of the crisis is far lower at 48%.

As one of the least densely populated U.S. states, Montana has been somewhat spared by the coronavirus pandemic, reporting fewer than 500 COVID-19 cases altogether. With new cases flatlining in the last few weeks, Governor Bullock has begun a phased reopening of the state’s schools and businesses.

But Coleman says the governor’s surge in popularity could peter out if the pandemic fades out of view before the election. “The few months we have until November — that can pretty much be an eternity when it comes to politics,” he says. “It’s very possible that by the time the election rolls around things are looking a bit less favorable for Bullock.”

Bullock launched his campaign for Senate in March after a short-lived run for president that ended in December. The governor initially said he wasn’t interested in running for Senate, but reversed course after an appeal by top Democrats that reportedly included Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and former President Barack Obama.

Despite Bullock’s polling lead, Sabato’s Crystal Ball still gives Daines a slight advantage with a “Lean Republican” rating for Montana’s Senate race.

However, Coleman says that Montana voters have a unique tendency to vote against incumbents. In 1996, Montana was one of the few states that voted for Republican candidate Bob Dole after voting for Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in the previous presidential election. 

“It is a red state, but it tends to have these big movements against the party that’s in power,” Coleman says.

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