Republican Steve Daines, Montana’s only member of the House of Representatives, is leading interim Democrat Sen. John Walsh by a handy margin in a race seen as crucial to GOP hopes to take the Senate, a new poll says.
Daines tops Walsh by a 51-37 percent margin in the Rasmussen Reports survey. He leads another potential Democrat challenger, John Bohlinger, by a 52-34 percent margin.
Daines and Walsh are the leading candidates vying to claim the seat held for 36 years by Max Baucus, who resigned earlier this year to become ambassador to China. Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock last month tabbed Walsh, his lieutenant governor, to replace Baucus.
The move was heavily criticized by Republicans, who accused Bullock of orchestrating a backroom deal with Washington Democrats, and also by Montana Democrats, who accused the governor of cronyism.
Capitol Hill aides pondered whether Baucus’ appointment as ambassador was designed to give a Democratic candidate an air of incumbency before the November election, Roll Call reported last month.
The election is seen as one of the Republicans’ most promising chances to pick up one of the six additional seats it needs to claim control of the Senate.
Baucus was a key supporter of President Obama’s health care reform, and Rasmussen reports his popularity ratings have suffered as a result. Only 25 percent of those polled view the ex-senator "very favorably," while 30 percent view him "very unfavorably."
The health care law is exceedingly unpopular in Montana, with only 36 percent of those polled saying they had a favorable opinion while 61 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
Only 42 percent of residents surveyed approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance, while 56 percent disapprove. Among those, only 24 percent "strongly approve" while a whopping 50 percent "strongly disapprove."
As for the top two candidates, Daines is viewed "very favorably" by 29 percent of those polled and "very unfavorably" by 19 percent, while Walsh polled at 14 percent "very favorable" to 17 percent "very unfavorable."
The survey was conducted March 17-18.
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