Big Sky Turnaround?

05/25/2011 11:55 am ET
  • Carl Pope Former executive director and chairman, Sierra Club

San Francisco -- U.S. Senate candidate for Montana Jon Tester made a swing through San Francisco this week. Tester is taking on incumbent Republican Conrad Burns, whose connections with Jack Abramoff are hurting him badly in a state that can still remember when it sent leaders of the stature of Mike Mansfield and Lee Metcalf to the U.S. Senate.

Tester started as the outsider in the Democratic primary. Now, the first poll since the primary shows him with a 50 to 43 percent lead over Burns. The Rasmussen report commented, "It is stunning for any long-term incumbent to be trailing in a re-election bid. It is even [more so] for a Republican to be trailing this badly in a state that President Bush carried by twenty points in Election 2004."

One big issue is ethics. Tester won his Democratic primary by being Mr. Clean, and Burns is going to have a hard time getting the white hat back on. Tester also is helped by the popularity of Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer, who scores over 70 percent with voters.

But Montana is still a Republican state. Interestingly, the one issue on which Montanans say they trust Democrats more than Republicans is energy, and renewable energy was a centerpiece of Tester's comments in San Francisco along with education and health care. Montana was the first state where the powerful coalition between environmental and agricultural interests on renewables came together. And in spite of the state's bitter winters, Montanans are increasingly anxious about global warming. The state currently is suffering through a terrible hot spell, after a very dry winter, and conditions all over the state are ripe for fires. One thing about wind turbines -- they don't fuel global warming; they cool it down. Jon Tester gets that. Conrad Burns doesn't.