Tester must of course deal with the challenges of voter angst toward politicians in general, an unpopular president, an even more unpopular Congress, and the looming implementation of the health care bill.
That means that Tester must also distance himself from his unpopular Democratic cohort Max Baucus and his controversial policies, which remind voters of all of the above, to renew voters attention to the jobs he’s brought home and the Montana roots and rock-solid ethics that have made him so popular.
According to a recent survey, Max Baucus’s approval rating has hardly seen an uptick since it plummetted after the health care bill became what it is. Baucus’ favorables now stand at 38 percent. Fifty-three percent of Americans meanwhile continue to view the Senator unfavorably.
Tester isn’t alone in facing this challenge. Democrats across the country are going to be put on the defensive. We saw in 2010 that national politics and policies angered voters. Steve Daines will try to make the argument that a vote for Tester is a vote for Baucus, Obama, and Pelosi. More narrowly, he will attempt to tie Tester to the unpopular policies that Max has authored and voted for, but if Tester plays it right and begins to stand on his own, Daines will be shooting at a moving target.
Tester’s voting record does not align 100% with Baucus, but supportive issue groups, like the ones that painted Baucus and Tester’s faces together on billboards and full-page newspaper ads across the state this past weekend do Tester no favors.
Tester’s counter-punch is simple, and standing on his own is unlikely to hurt Baucus whose popularity can’t go much lower, and who is not up for re-election anyway. If, instead of cutting the cord with Baucus, Tester simply continues on his current course, his campaign will be an uphill battle.