Several things are going through Rick Hill’s and Denny Rehberg’s minds today. First, he is wondering why he ignored the old adage, “pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.” Taking the $500,000 donation in circumvention of Montana law–even though the law was in a state of limbo–was a bad move. It wasn’t worth the risk, and Hill’s political instincts were clearly dulled from years on the sidelines. Taking the loot ensured weeks of awful headlines, branding him as a guy in a smoke filled room, flanked by fat cats chomping on cigars, and talking proudly of the fact they own the candidate, and handing him a briefcase packed with big bills.
Second, he must be reconsidering the pick of Sonju. Hill only won by 1000 votes in Yellowstone County which makes victory virtually impossible for a Republican. Presumably, any Billings name on the ticket would have brought in substantial votes there, but would have left Hill’s performance in the Flathead (where Sonju comes from) largely intact. Sonju got the good end of the bargain. He’s now a rising star with statewide name recognition and will run for statewide office soon, a blueprint stamped out by Steve Daines, who ran with Roy Brown in 2008. His ticket tanked, but Daines carved out his own little thing, and made it work.
The other thing that Hill is kicking himself about is that he way overestimated the likelihood of a competitive primary, and the strength of the idiots who challenged him. All of them embarrassed themselves and were never serious contenders at all. They were political neophytes on the statewide scene, and if Hill had gauged this accurately, he would have done two things: pick a Billings running mate. (Sonju was a pick designed to shore up right wing votes in the Flathead, a conservative battleground), and he could have saved his money, and refrain from spending anything in the primary. Hill believed, in error, that his past sins of marital infidelity would blow up in his face in a primary, especially one inhabited by “moral” conservatives like Essman and Miller and Stapleton. He turned out to have been wrong. None of those yahoos had the skill or finances to mount a serious challenge. But Hill blinked, and Bullock came out of the gate in June with a huge financial edge, ran a mistake-free campaign, turned out key constituencies like Indian voters, and never looked back.
As for Denny, his contemplation today should be about his choice. Why did he choose to run for Senate? The answer cannot be that he wanted to accomplish some affirmative thing for Montana, because he does not believe in that type of stuff. He believes in negative government, occupying an office for the purpose of keeping liberals, or Democrats, out of it, lest they destroy society. So all Rehberg was doing was trying to upgrade the size of his office, get a larger budget for offices and an entourage of staffers, and have people call him Senator.
Denny is also probably wondering why he ever voted for a pay raise; and why he voted to allow the federal Homeland Security office to have domain over public lands. The pay-raises produced brutal copy for negative ads by Tester and Dems, while the land grab enraged Rehberg’s own base, especially when they were reminded about it in a terrific ad funded by an environmental group, who successfully used the issue to get conservatives to flee Rehberg and vote Libertarian. Dan Cox the libertarian got a record 6.5 points.
And Rehberg is also wondering why his twenty million dollar barrage of attack ads, telling voters that Tester supports Obama 95 percent of the time, was so ineffective. After all, Karl Rove came here and told Denny that he’d take care of business and put a knife in Tester by linking him to the president. But Rehberg knows the answer to this, and its eating his guts out: Tester worked hard for constituents for six years, hammering things out for loggers, vets, hunters, the elderly, Indian peoples, women and so on. And he earned the trust of Montana citizens, which allowed them to conceptualize Tester as someone distinct from Obama. Rehberg, on the other hand, sat around for twelve years, doing nothing at all except complaining about Democrats, riding the occasional right-wing wave, and free loading on a generally conservative state electorate. A worker always beats a free loader.