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Montana Governor, Senators Set To Jump Off Fence

The three highest ranking Democrats in Montana plan to wade into the Democratic presidential race as soon as the state's primary is decided tonight, according to a source familiar with the decision.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer as well as Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have agreed to all endorse the winner of Montana's primary -- almost certain to be Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) -- immediately upon the contest being called. The trio will be joined in the endorsement by state party chairman Dennis McDonald and vice chairman Margaret Campbell.

Polling, as well as conversations with strategists for both sides, suggest Obama enters today's Montana primary as a clear favorite. An American Research Group survey put Obama's lead over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at 48 percent to 44 percent but a Mason-Dixon survey showed Obama with a wider 52 percent to 35 percent lead.

Endorsing Obama en masse has both practical and symbolic effects.

On the practical level, it delivers Obama a bundle of crucial superdelegates in his quest to formally clinch the party's nod before the night is through. (Obama, as expected, received the endorsement of Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina today.)

On a symbolic level, all three men -- Schweitzer, Baucus and Tester -- have something of a national profile.

Schweitzer, first elected in 2004 and expected to cruise to reelection this November, is seen as one of the faces of Democrats' resurgence in the West and is regularly mentioned as a potential national candidate in his own right.

Baucus is a senior member of the Democratic Senate caucus and has a close relationship to Clinton, according to those familiar with the two.

Tester is the newest arrival of the three, having defeated Sen. Conrad Burns (R) in 2006. That win was fueled by Tester's support among the liberal blogosphere and he remains a popular figure in the progressive online community.

Obama's campaign has made some noise about contesting Montana in the general election; the unanimous support of Schweitzer, Baucus and Tester is a good way to start that uphill climb.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 3, 2008; 9:20 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: South Dakota, Montana Primary Predictions

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