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Campaign Spotlight: Montana's Tester Targeted By Republicans

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Montana's Jon Tester rode into the U.S. Senate with the Democratic wave of 2006, quickly earning a reputation as an affable colleague and a reliable vote for progressive causes.

But whether he stays there is an open question.

There is a bounty on Tester's head from national Republican leaders, who see his seat as key to their potential takeover of Congress's upper chamber. There are currently 47 GOP senators, and a net pickup of just four seats will give them majority control - just three if Mitt Romney wins the White House.

Polls show Tester in a tight, see-saw race against GOP Congressman Dennis Rehberg.

Eight polls taken in the state show mixed results, although seven of the polls are affiliated with either Democratic or Republican sources.

A Billings Gazette poll taken in mid-March is seen as the most credible and showed Tester ahead of Rehberg by just one point, 46 percent to 45 percent.

Rehberg is Montana's only U.S. representative, which gives him statewide name recognition and a huge fund-raising advantage over any other challenger.

According to Federal Election Commission records, Rehberg had $2.7 million in the bank at the end of March, the most recent reporting period required by the FEC.

Tester, however, has nearly $4.1 million on hand - and a slightly more moderate voting record than Rehberg, which could appeal to independent voters who may decide the election.

A voting database maintained by the Washington Post showed Rehberg has voted with Republicans 93 percent of the time, while Tester voted with the Democrats 91 percent of the time.

Tester can also point to some key votes on which he has sided with Senate Republicans on Western priorities, such as a vote in favor of the Keystone Pipeline and another to repeal ethanol subsidies.

But Montana is an unpredictable state - the state's Governor, Brian Schweitzer, and the state's other senator, Max Baucus, are both Democrats. But there is Rehberg, as well as a generally conservative populace.

One needs only to look at history to see the race is likely to be one of the closest in the country. Tester won election in 2006 by unseating GOP incumbent Conrad Burns by a final tally of 49.2 to 48.3 percent.

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