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A Christmas Present for Montana Democrats

A new independent poll released on Christmas Day in Montana likely robbed Sen. Conrad Burns (R) of his holiday cheer.

The survey, which was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, showed that the avalanche of stories detailing Burns's ties to disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff is having a considerable effect on how he is perceived in voters' minds.

Fully 58 percent of those tested said they were either very or somewhat concerned with Burns's relationship with Abramoff. Thirty-three percent said they were not concerned. (Republicans are likely to note that the result is somewhat skewed given that respondents were read a paragraph of information detailing the nature of the dealings between the two men before being asked their level of concern.) National Democrats are sure to be emboldened by these numbers nonetheless, having already run two television ads earlier this year seeking to tie Burns to Abramoff. (Watch the ads on the state party's Web site.)

Head-to-head matchups between Burns and his two main Democratic adversaries have narrowed since Mason-Dixon last polled in the state in May. Burns leads state Auditor John Morrison (D) 46 percent to 40 percent, down considerably from the 49 percent to 35 percent lead the senator held in May.  Burns carried a more comfortable 49 percent to 35 percent edge over state Senate president Jon Tester (D), though that margin too has shrunk from the 24-point bulge Burns held in May.

The Mason-Dixon poll was in the field Dec. 13-15, testing 625 registered voters with a 4 percent margin of error.

Burns narrowly escaped defeat in 2000 when then little-known farmer Brian Schweitzer (D) came within four percent of ousting the incumbent.  Given Schweitzer's gubernatorial victory last year and Democrats' gains in the state legislature, Burns is a major Democratic target in 2006.  He ranks fifth on The Fix's most recent ranking of Senate races in play.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 27, 2005; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Senator Cornhole Burns is a joke. His election was purely an accident. And after he got in, HUGE corporate donations from the likes of BIG TABACCO kept him in. But Montanans are not stupid. Sometimes, it takes a while to see things for what they are, and then, superior money is not gonna insure victory. One example. Davey skunner's mining industry spent more than THREE MILLION DOLLARS in an attempt to defeat I-137, the citizen's initiative to outlaw heapleach gold mining in Montana. But guess what. IT PASSED ANYWAY! NEVER, in Montana history has such an inititative passed! NEVER, in the history of our country had the mining industry been told no! NEVER, in Montana history since the first white man landed in Montana had an industry NOT been allowed to run roughshod over the people of Montana! That's just the way the people of Montana are, REGARDLESS of what davey skunner says! And to bring this up to the present, Cornhole Burns, the buffoon, has worn out his welcome in Montana, JUST like the gold mining industry had done! People have had it with Corny! I mean, the guy DOESN'T EVEN HAVE A COLLEGE DEGREE for God's sake! He's the ONLY U.S. senator w/o a college degree! And it shows. Cornhole, who only occasionally and accidentally uses a subject that agrees with the verb, pontificates mightily but incoherently on the senate floor, punctuating his buffoonish buccolic witticisms with liberal doses of tobacco slobber! NO ONE in Montana that I know talks with Cornie's ridiculous accent! He sounds very much like one of the less intelligent characters from Oh Brother Where Art Though! And I'll lay you money that Corny has sung into the can and been saved on more than one occasion! He's THAT bad. And there ain't enough money in the whole Rethug party to save Cornhy form himself this time! Stick a fork in Corny, HE'S DONE! YOU BET!

Posted by: Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers! | December 31, 2005 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Sarah, the difference is Montanans wrote the enviromental laws they found acceptable to their sate, not the federal government.

BTW, I have a fondness for the State of Montana. My alma Mater played the Montana Grizzlies twice for the Division 1-AA championship in football in the mid 1990's. Marshall vs Montana. Montana one one and Marshall one won. WE had a blast hosting THE GRIZZ in Huntington, WV.

Posted by: DB | December 31, 2005 2:33 AM | Report abuse

Sen. Cornhole Burns is a friggin' MORON! A certifiable idiot!, AND a racist bastard! And Montanans are gettin' real tired of a outta state jerk from Missouri! And I wouldn't pay TOO much attention to davy skinner. He's STILL mad as hell that we kicked that the heapleach gold mining industry RIGTH THE HELL OUTTA MONTANA, despite guys like davy who've NEVER done a single days labor in thier lives whining and crying like little girls! Let's face it. The Rethugs in Montana have done themselves in! I mean, judy mars, cornhole burns, and the vast majority they send to the state lege are retards! They are done in Montana. It's all over cept the crying by guys like davy skinner!

Posted by: Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers! | December 30, 2005 10:28 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Harry | December 30, 2005 10:21 PM | Report abuse

DB- I think you're right that in general, Montanans don't "take kindly" to federal imposion of rules of any sort. Interseting to note, however, is that this does not necessarily translate to an overall anti-environmental regulation stance by the general voting public. For example, we voted twice by state inititative to ban cyanide heap leach gold mining, and (in the light of the 70's political scene in the State) wrote one of the most progressive, environmental Constitutions in the nation. There's potential in Montana, and I think potential in the Rocky Mountain West for Democrats to do well.

Posted by: Sarah | December 30, 2005 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Sarah for correcting the Centrist characterization. Poplulist takes on so many differnt meanings in other parts of the country. For example, in West Virginia, a populist would mean a type of tree.
Seriously, I believe you are right, Montana has always been more independant thinking and prgmatic and does not take kindly having federal laws imposed upon them such speed limits or environmental rules.

Posted by: DB | December 29, 2005 10:48 PM | Report abuse

As I explained in my blog,, the longer this scandal lingers over Burns, the more his numbers will slip.

The problem was that Burns demanded the money ($150,000 total) up front whereas Dorgan (D-ND) did not get any donations until AFTER he took an action that was helpful to one of Abramoff's tribes.

Still, after 3 weeks of stories to have a 49% (45% against State Auditor Morrisson) re-elect is not bad. Burns has weathered worse before, so this seat still leans Republican, although that could change if the investigations implicate Burns more.

Posted by: Tao Te Schmooze | December 29, 2005 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Yes! I knew it would happen someday...they aren't just Democrats in Montana, they admit they are Populists! As in Williams Jennings Bryan et cetera. Thank you Sarah.
The reason Burns had so much trouble against Schweitzer is because BS is a better politician. He's affable, swift, and pays attention to his focus groups. That doesn't mean he's a good leader with good policy ideas. It just means he's good on TV and in a crowd. I've met him a couple of times, and he's difficult not to like, even if his politics stink.
As for the Montana GOP, we honestly don't have anyone with Charisma...and millions...together.

Posted by: Dave Skinner | December 29, 2005 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Conrad Burns is in trouble, and there is every indication a Democrat- the right Democrat (I prefer the flat-topped, straight-shooting populilst organic farmer from Big Sandy)
- can win.

I'd like to address two glaring misconceptions about voters in Montana implied by comments here.

First, I would not characterize the Democrats that are winning in Montana as "centrists." They are populists. Yes, Schweitzer supports the right to bear arms, but he also called on the President to bring our National Guard home from Iraq, and currently declared a state of emergency for the State's poor after Congree cut funding for help with winter heating.

Its an important distinction, because I don't think centrists really inspire anyone in Montana. Dems get in trouble when they run watered down, middle of the road folks for office.

Second, I strongly disagree with J. Clozier's characterization of Montana voters as "clueless." If voting Republican is an indication of cluelessness (which I don't buy either), notice that Montana elected a Democratic governor, and a Democratic majority in the Legislature in 2004. Our State Land Board, comprised of state-wide electeds like gov and auditor, is also controlled by a Democratic majority. There's a reason the DNC calls us the Montana Miracle.

While I agree that poor folks voting Republican represents a great ironic tragedy, Montanas are a well-informed and comparatively highly activated voter population.

Elitism of any kind- whether its DC politicians taking corporate $, or the liberal variety that insists the body politic is stupid and ignorant- does not win elections in our great State.

Posted by: Sarah | December 29, 2005 12:46 PM | Report abuse

The final climax of the story is yet to come. Article in today's Post seems to indicate Abramoff may make a plea deal as did Scanlon and Aiden (i think that is his name). What this tells me, is the "Big Fish" are yet to fall. Look for Burns, Ney, Delay, Doolittle and Virgil Goode of VA to be immediate fallouts. Not certain about the Democrats as their powers to change of influence legislation has been severly hampered by the GOP who refuse to work across party lines. In short, this our way or nothing at all for the Dem opposition may actually in the final analysis protect the Dems from the Abramoff scandal.

One sidebar, what non politicians in some of these right wing groups will be implicated? Here's a name Grover no taxes himself; Ralf Reed, and James Dobson of that family values organization.

Stay tuned, I am not a big Alan Simpson fan but do find him frank and straight forward, but when he is quoting an official as saying this is bigger than Abscam and some big players are going down, 2006 could turn out to be Nancy Pelosi's dream season as she spouts her Republicans as being in a "culture of corruption".

If you take out Delay and his PAC, Norquist and his cronies, James Dobson, Ralph Reed and his cristiam coalition base, you will have the some of this biggest players and the underpinnings of the far right wing conservative movement severely damaged. If all of this happens, Dems will be salivating. But alas, can they capitalize....?

Posted by: db | December 29, 2005 12:25 AM | Report abuse

It's also worth noting that Burns used to be a broadcaster himself, and given his sway over FCC affairs, you'll not find too many Montana stations going after him (rather hard to attack his integrity and then go, hat in hand, looking for his help in getting a sale approved). So I doubt you'll see much critical local coverage.

Which unfortunately gives strength to that silliness in the post above. So long as Burns can spin it as outsiders trying to mess with Montana's affairs (as opposed to his corrupt self getting played by Abramoff), he's got a shot.

But not enough of a shot, I hope.

Posted by: SJ | December 28, 2005 9:22 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Jon Allen | December 28, 2005 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Coming from a Red State myself (Idaho) I feel comfortable in stating that Burns will be reelected due to the ongoing cluelessness of the Montana voters. Call it elitist liberalism if you like, but people who vote Republican these days are people who haven't been paying attention the last five years.

Yes, the Democrats have been spineless and are political incompetents. It is a sad state of American affairs when we're left with the dubious choice of deciding between spineless morons (Democrats) and outright, evil, manipulative bastards (Republicans). Yay America.

Posted by: J. Crozier | December 28, 2005 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Neo-Con Republicans like to be above the law.

Americans hate that.

Burns and all of his other neo-con friends should be looking for day labor options in '06.

Posted by: Reality... | December 28, 2005 5:19 PM | Report abuse

While I think it's heartning that the lastest poll shows Conrad Burns slipping a little bit it's a long ways to the election.
What many people outside of Montana don't understand is that it's very cheap to run a political campaign in Montana.
Burns will come close to spending at least 10 million dollars in this campaign and it will be very tough for his challengers to raise even a quarter of that amount.
And while Burns is not a very good campaigner he's smart enough to hire good people to run his campaign.
The only thing that will bring down Conrad Burns is if his troubles with Abramof continue and there is a national trend pushing the Democrats.

Posted by: Stan | December 28, 2005 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Senator Burns, while old and curmudgeoned, is not a terrible legislator. He does great things for Montana and other rural states, and has a substantial amount of political captital. Although suspicious, recieving legit campiaign contributions from a lobbyist is hardly a crime, and until it is proven that Senator Burns set specific policy for money, he should be considered innocent. Lobbyists influence legislators in many ways, contributions being one of them.

All politicians take campaign contributions.

Posted by: the dude | December 28, 2005 11:52 AM | Report abuse

If Montanans actually think that Conrad Burns gives a crap about them, then they are delusional. He awarded 3 million dollars to one of the wealthiest Indian tribes in Michigan to build a school. (A tribe that was not eligible for federal funding by the way). In the meantime, Montana has several third world nations within its own boarders. Do you think any of the Indian tribes in Montana see federal funding like that? If you think they do, you should try driving through the Crow Reservation, or the Blackfoot Reservation for a reality check. And the only reason Montana tribes are passed by...because they don't have a uber-lobbiest burning up the pavement on Capitol Hill giving out free trips and Super Bowl tickets. Let's face it...Conrad no longer represents Montanans and he has to go!

Posted by: Janet | December 28, 2005 11:45 AM | Report abuse

"Oooh oooh heres one ... "Bush Lied, People Died" ... yeah that stickin' it to ol dubya ... he's never heard of that one"

That's what I like about Republicans. A blow job? A high crime. 2000 dead men and women and a false pretense for a war? Eye rolls and sarcasm.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 28, 2005 11:22 AM | Report abuse

"Rethuglicans" ... I crack my moonbat self up. I wish I could take credit for the newly invented word but some moonbat liberal beat me to it. How about "RepubliKKKans" ? Damn it already taken. Oooh oooh heres one ... "Bush Lied, People Died" ... yeah that stickin' it to ol dubya ... he's never heard of that one.

Posted by: Mike Finney | December 27, 2005 11:08 PM | Report abuse


Conrad Burns will continue to maintain his lead, small as it may be now. You will see it widen as Tester and Morrison tear each other apart during the Primary race.

In spite of our population growth due to folks moving to Montana, we continue to be a down to earth populace with a deeper understanding of "the body politic" than we are given credit for. We do not like our delegation slandered. We take umbrage at folks from out-of-state who would attempt to control our reresentaion and our future.

Posted by: Jack Clarkson | December 27, 2005 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Burns was in trouble in 2000, before Abramoff. Maybe Montanians are tired of a politician that they dont really like. In Montana of all places, where the deer, buffalo and GOP all roam free. Sounds like the Dems are running centrists, pragmatic candidates in a red state and winning. Could this be a microcosism of the Nation.... centrist, pragmatic politicans that actually work across party lines to work for all Americans instead of special interests, lobbyists, the top 1% of the wealthy and dont kow tow to the right wing minority zealots.

If one looks at the Western States as a whole more states are looking less re(d)liable(Utah, Wyoming and Idaho are exceptions); as the social conservatives have made progress and the GOP has dominated in the South, the West is showing its independance. They are conservatives, but fiscal conservatives who dont like folks telling them how to live their lives.

Posted by: ImpeachBushNOw | December 27, 2005 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Well, Brian, posting your comment twice doesn't make it any more true. The fact is that Abramoff did NOT shower both sides equally and I think you know that. He gave FAR more money to Rethuglicans than Democraps and to Conrad Burns he gave a lot of that largesse.

Posted by: Mike Finney | December 27, 2005 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Not quite that simple...
The Montana press has not run information such as the WP's charts of last week showing the equal-opportunity largesse Abramoff showered on both sides of the aisle. Nor has anyone raised the point that as Interior Apps chair, Burns is the go-to guy for anyone interested in tribal affairs. He controls the agenda, after all.
We're a small state with a small news hole, the fact that our "reporters" fill that hole with pablum is a sad thing.

Posted by: Dave Skinner | December 27, 2005 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Not quite that simple...
The Montana press has not run information such as the WP's charts of last week showing the equal-opportunity largesse Abramoff showered on both sides of the aisle. Nor has anyone raised the point that as Interior Apps chair, Burns is the go-to guy for anyone interested in tribal affairs. He controls the agenda, after all.
We're a small state with a small news hole, the fact that our "reporters" fill that hole with pablum is a sad thing.

Posted by: Dave Skinner | December 27, 2005 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I liked your old picture better... I'd go back to that.

Also, I like the way Morrison and Tester are playing this scandal... they haven't made that many public announcements on it or tried to "play politics" too much... basically have let the the Abramoff thing keep chipping away at Burns.

Posted by: Adam | December 27, 2005 1:46 PM | Report abuse

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