With the annual Republican celebrations of the births of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan coming up, speculation is rampant that Montana’s lone member of the House of Representatives may take advantage of that venue to announce a bid for the U.S. Senate.
Rumors have abounded that six-term U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Billings Republican, will take a shot at unseating first-term Sen. Jon Tester, a Big Sandy Democrat, in 2012.
Rehberg’s campaign spokesman said this morning that the representative has received a lot of support and encouragement about running for the Senate.
“He is weighing all of his options carefully and will announce his decision Saturday,” said Brian Barrett, communications director for Rehberg for Congress.
Montana Republican Steve Daines announced his candidacy in the race to unseat Tester last fall.
The Associated Press reported Monday that Tester leads all three with campaign funds — barely — for the next election.
Tester has reported he has about $560,000 in the bank, with Rehberg reporting $553,000 on hand and Daines reporting raising about $225,000 since entering the race in November.
A national headliner will be on hand when Rehberg makes his announcement.
The Missoula County Republican Central Committee has announced that Rep. Michele Bachman, R-Minn., will be one of the speakers at the Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner Saturday in Helena, where Rehberg will announce his decision.
Bachman, a strict conservative and founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, of which Rehberg is a member, was taken to task by Tester Monday for her proposal to slash veterans benefits in a plan to reduce federal spending.
Rehberg has attacked Tester on several issues in the last year, including Tester’s proposal to revise forest regulation in Montana to increase wilderness areas, increase recreational areas, implement watershed and forest restoration projects, and mandate logging in some national forests.
Rehberg says Tester did not gather input from Montanans while crafting the bill, a claim Tester’s office disputes.
Rehberg also called on Tester and Montana’s senior senator, Democrat Max Baucus, to follow his lead and pledge not to use earmarks. Both Tester and Baucus have said the use of earmarks is the only way to fund some important Montana projects and services.
Tester barely unseated Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in the 2006 election.
Tester, a Big Sandy dry land farmer, ran for the seat after term limits prevented him from running for re-election to the state Senate, where he had served as Senate president.
Rehberg, a Billings rancher and real estate developer, served three terms as a state representative before being appointed lieutenant governor by Gov. Stan Stephens, and successfully running for that position with Gov. Marc Racicot in 1992.
He lost a bid to unseat Baucus in a close race in 1996 — Baucus won 50 percent to 45 percent — and won his first term to the U.S. House in 2000 when he faced Nancy Keenan, the state superintendent of public instruction, 51 percent to 46 percent. The two were running for the seat being vacated by Republican Rick Hill, who did not run for re-election.
Rehberg has soundly defeated all challengers since then.
Recent polls have shown Tester and Rehberg running neck-and-neck.
The Democrats already have launched attacks against Rehberg, on both the state and national level, including a statements from the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and from the Montana Democratic Party.