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Why Jon Tester Can Survive an Obama Loss in Montana in 2012

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Montana leads the nation in producing victorious Democratic Senate nominees in the face of Republicans carrying the state's Electoral College votes - occurring in nine of 17 cycles since 1912 and seven of 10 cycles since 1952

This is the first in a series of reports by Smart Politics on split-ticket balloting in presidential and U.S. Senate elections over the last century

Early polling and pundit commentaries suggest that Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester may have a bigger challenge defending his seat in 2012 against current at-large GOP Representative Denny Rehberg than he did in taking it as a challenger against three-term Republican Conrad Burns back in 2006.

However, a review of Montana electoral history indicates Tester may yet have the upper hand, even if Barack Obama's campaign flounders at the top of the ticket in Montana.

A Smart Politics study of popular vote U.S. Senate contests in presidential election cycles over the past 100 years finds Montana leads the nation by a wide margin in electing Democratic senators whilst casting their Electoral College votes for the Republican presidential nominee.

Since its first popular vote election in 1912, Montanans have sent Democrats to the Senate nine times during 17 presidential election cycles when the GOP presidential nominee carried the state, or 53 percent of the time, including seven of 10 elections since 1952.

That is nearly three times the national average of just 18.3 percent.

No other state even eclipses the 40 percent mark, with North Dakota coming closest at 37.5 percent (six of 16 cycles).

Overall, Montana has elected 15 Democratic Senators in presidential election cycles during this span - good for second highest in the nation, behind only Louisiana (17) and tied with Arkansas.

The first popularly-elected Democratic U.S. Senate nominee to prevail in Montana in the face of the party's defeat statewide in a presidential race was Thomas Walsh in 1924.

Walsh carried the Treasure State by 10.4 points that year while Democratic nominee John Davis lost by 19.4 points to Calvin Coolidge.

Democrats would go on to carry the Senate seat whilst losing Electoral College votes to the Republicans in 1928 (with Burton Wheeler), 1952 (Mike Mansfield), 1960 and 1972 (Lee Metcalf), 1976 (John Melcher), and 1984, 1996, and 2008 (Max Baucus).

Democrats did not always win pretty with Republicans performing strong at the top of the ticket - winning five of these nine Senate contests by less than seven points.

Overall, Democrats have averaged a 13.3-point victory and 55.9 percent of the vote across these nine cycles, while the party's presidential nominees have lost Montana by an average of 13.1 points and notched just 39.8 percent of the vote.

No other state has accomplished this unusual Democratic-Republican split ticket feat in U.S. Senate and presidential elections respectively even seven times during the past century.

Only six other states have accomplished this feat at least five times: North Dakota (six, 37.5 percent), Nevada (six, 33.3 percent), South Dakota (five, 31.3 percent), Arkansas (five, 31.3 percent), Tennessee (five, 29.4 percent), and Louisiana (five, 27.8 percent).

Of course, if Barack Obama should carry Montana in 2012, the odds are even stronger that Tester will prevail and return to D.C. for a second term. (Obama lost the state by 2.4 points in 2008).

Every time the Democratic presidential nominee has won Montana, the Democratic Senate nominee has also prevailed - six out of six cycles: 1912 (with Thomas Walsh), 1916 (Henry Myers), 1936 (James Murray), 1940 (Burton Wheeler), 1948 (James Murray), and 1964 (Mike Mansfield).

This slice of Montana political history may be a morale booster for the Tester campaign, coupled with the findings of a previous Smart Politics report that found sitting at-large representatives nationwide have unseated U.S Senators just 17 percent of the time over the last 100 years, and never by an at-large Republican House member.

Victorious Montana Democratic U.S. Senate Nominees in the face of Party's Presidential Nominee Losing the State

Year
Senator
%
MoV
Pres. Nominee
%
MoV
2008
Max Baucus
72.7
45.5
Barack Obama
47.1
-2.4
1996
Max Baucus
49.6
4.9
Bill Clinton
41.2
-2.9
1984
Max Baucus
56.9
16.2
Walter Mondale
38.2
-22.3
1976
John Melcher
64.2
28.3
Jimmy Carter
45.4
-7.4
1972
Lee Metcalf
52.0
3.9
George McGovern
37.9
-20.1
1960
Lee Metcalf
50.7
1.5
John Kennedy
48.6
-2.5
1952
Mike Mansfield
50.8
2.2
Adlai Stevenson
40.1
-19.3
1928
Burton Wheeler
53.2
6.4
Al Smith
40.5
-17.9
1924
Thomas Walsh
52.8
10.4
John Davis
19.4
-23.1
 
Average
55.9
13.3
 
39.8
-13.1
Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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