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Montana Races

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Outlook: Leans Democratic

November 8, 2006 Update:

As the Crystal Ball predicted, Jon Tester (D) unseated Sen. Conrad Burns (R) with 49% of the vote.

November 6, 2006 Update:

Jon Tester (D) will unseat Sen. Conrad Burns (R). Burns has ably portrayed Tester as well left of Montana’s mainstream, but the Abramoff drumbeat may be insurmountable for him and Tester was quick to criticize Sen. Kerry’s recent statement. Burns has proven his mettle as a survivor over the years, and the polls show an up-tick in his direction, but we believe we’re simply seeing natural closing of the gap in the final days. After all we have seen in this race, even President Bush’s last-minute campaign stop in Billings, it is still very difficult for us to believe Tester could lose.

September 28, 2006 Update:

The future continues to look bleak for GOP Sen. Conrad Burns. For Jon Tester, on the other hand, things are on the up-and-up. Although a Rasmussen Reports election survey from August polled the candidates with a 47 percent to 47 percent tie, Burns appears to be steadily losing ground. In the most recent poll, Tester now leads Burns 50 percent to 43 percent. Both candidates displayed widely divergent opinions over issues-namely the war in Iraq, the war on terror, and taxation policies-in a September 23 debate. Burns maintained an aggressive attack on Tester’s weak support of the war on terror, and specifically his opposition to the Patriot Act. Tester replied: “Let me be clear. I don’t want to weaken the Patriot Act. I want to repeal it.”

Four more debates are scheduled before the general election. While the numbers appear to continue shifting toward Tester, it is still questionable as to just how many voters will be swayed by Tester’s liberal positions in an overwhelmingly Republican state.

Brenan Richards, Crystal Ball Pacific Regional Correspondent

August 2, 2006 Update:

The Crystal Ball has seen enough polls and has received enough information from Montana to lean this race toward Jon Tester. We had been hesitant due to our great respect for incumbency, but incumbent Senator Conrad Burns simply has too many problems–from President Bush and the Iraq war to the lobbying scandal and his own uncontrollable tongue. Burns will be exceptionally lucky to come out of his tailspin and win another term. Tester’s image seems just right for Montana voters, and Burns’ efforts to label Tester a left-wing liberal have not taken hold, at least not so far.

June 7, 2006 Update:

Montana Democrats did a smart thing: they nominated Jon Tester instead of John Morrison. Morrison was tainted by scandal, and that would have given incumbent Senator Conrad Burns an opening to avoid questions about his strong connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Tester won in a massive landslide, which was totally undetected by the polls in and out of Montana. This newfound momentum will help tester and hurt Burns. However, Burns has a solid organization that is well financed and Tester is virtually broke and was noted for having a poor campaign organization. National Democrats will have to help Tester–and he will have to help himself–if he is to win in November. We currently rate this as a toss-up, but it could easily change to a likely Democratic win if Tester is able to take quickly make the needed adjustments and capitalize on his primary win.

June 1, 2006 Update:

The Democratic primary will tell the tale, and on June 6 Big Sky Democrats will choose between John Morrison and Jon Tester. Senator Conrad Burns will win his nomination handily, but he continues to be in real trouble for the general election.

March 27, 2006 Update:

The latest buzz in Montana is that Republican Senator Conrad Burns might receive a challenge from state senate Minority Leader Bob Keenan in the GOP primary. If this actually happens, it will be one more sign of Burns’ weakness in 2006. We believe that this race will be very close, and that Burns is in serious trouble and will have to work very hard to overcome his difficulties.


Republican Senator Conrad Burns had a close call in 2000 while seeking his third term. Democrat Brian Schweitzer almost defeated him, but Schweitzer is now governor of Montana and not running. Although Burns has already received his state party’s endorsement, State Senate Minority Leader Bob Keenan will challenge him for the GOP nomination, and Burns is taking nothing for granted. Though his dealings with scandal-embroiled lobbyist Jack Abramoff have made for a lot of negative attention, we still give Burns the initial edge, especially now that he’s given back all the money from Abramoff and company. However, we note that this low-cost state, where a nominee can spend a couple million and blitz television screens across the Big Sky, means that the possible Democratic candidates State Auditor John Morrison and State Senate President Jon Tester could run a very competitive race against Burns.


Conrad Burns (I) – Republican – Second Quarter Raised: $868,653 | Cash on Hand: $2,206,690

Jon Tester – Democrat – Second Quarter Raised: $864,377 | Cash on Hand: $514,907