CNN/TIME AllPolitics Vote '96

Mont.: Democratic Baucus Hangs On In Montana

BILLINGS, Mont. (AllPolitics, Oct. 31) -- Democratic incumbent Sen. Max Baucus has been re-elected after defeating Republican Lt. Gov. Dennis Rehberg. Baucus

Baucus was widely viewed as one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents up for re-election. But the three-term veteran gradually shored up his support, and took a clear lead over Rehberg in the campaign's final weeks.

Baucus waged an aggressive defense of his seat against attacks not only from Rehberg but from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which ran a barrage of ads earlier in the year attacking him as a liberal.

He also was targeted by abortion opponents, who launched an advertising campaign aimed at prodding Baucus into voting in September to override President Clinton's veto of a bill to ban certain late-term abortions. But Baucus, who opposed the bill when it came up for a vote in December, also voted to sustain the veto.

Rehberg espoused classic GOP themes: reducing the size of government and cutting taxes. His ads accused Baucus of voting for the "largest tax increase in history," a reference to tax hikes included in Clinton's budget package of 1993.

He also attempted to tar Baucus by highlighting his vote for a pay raise in 1991 and opposition to term limits. He claimed Baucus attempted to help his re-election prospects by flip-flopping on support for a balanced-budget constitutional amendment and other issues.

Rehberg's attacks appeared to fall short. A late September poll for Lee Newspapers found Baucus with a 51 percent lead over Rehberg, who had 37 percent. "I don't think Rehberg has given people reason to vote against (Baucus)," said Craig Wilson, a political scientist at Montana State University.

With a huge fund-raising advantage over Rehberg, Baucus leveled his own attacks against the Republican. He said Rehberg's support for the congressional GOP's balanced-budget plan means he backs reductions in spending for Medicare, student loans and other popular programs.

Baucus also lashed out at his opponent for opposing an increase in the minimum wage and supporting the 15 percent tax cut proposed by Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole. Baucus says he supports some tax breaks -- such as those proposed by Clinton that are targeted at education -- but said the Dole plan would go too far.

Congressional Quarterly contributed to this report.

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