MT-Sen: Burns vs. Tester

Were it not for the fact that disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates donated $150,000 to the campaign kitty of Montana’s Sen. Conrad Burns, the New York Times, the Washington Post and other national media outlets would not be focusing on the 71-year-old Republican’s battle for re-election against liberal Democrat Jon Tester, the state senate president.

“And the Post—although very reluctantly—had to admit in print I’ve done nothing wrong,” says Burns. Even while in devoting a full page to the Burns-Tester race, the Times did point out that “no charges have been brought against Mr. Burns or any of his associates.”

But the Times still does its utmost to tout the 49-year-old Tester as some different kind of Democrat because he is “a third generation farmer [who] very much looks the part of old Montana agriculture, right down to the flattop haircut that looks like nothing so much as a field of hard Northern wheat.”

Swell. But, as three-term conservative Burns (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90%) says of his opponent: “You can’t be all things to all people.” As Burns notes, the Democratic nominee “supports three different positions on troop withdrawal: immediate withdrawal, withdrawal on a political timeline, withdrawal with no specific timeline for those serving in the war on terrorism.”

Former U.S. Marine Burns says flatly: “We don’t cut and run from Iraq, and we don’t run out on our President, a hard-headed leader who believes very strongly in what he’s doing. We’re making progress, and I will fight to make sure our troops have every tool they need for a victory strategy—in Iraq and in the war on terror.”

Minus the Abramoff allegations and the vague and seemingly contradictory statements on Iraq by the Democratic nominee, the Burns-Tester race is a typical conservative-liberal shootout: Burns has proudly never voted for a tax increase and backed the Bush tax cuts, while Tester voted for tax increases in the legislature that totaled an estimated half-billion dollars. Burns supports tough border security (“We can’t deal with the flood of illegal immigrants until we cut off the flood first”) and wants undocumented workers to go home first and then apply for legal citizenship, while Tester opposes building a wall along the Southern border. Burns has backed a constitutional definition of marriage and ban on flag-burning, but Tester opposes both. Burns is strongly pro-life while Tester has taken money from the rabidly pro-abortion EMILY’s List and the National Abortion Rights Action League.

In 1988, Conrad Burns unseated a previously unbeaten incumbent to become the Big Sky Country’s second-ever Republican senator—in part because he demonstrated there were clear differences between himself and his Democratic opponent. In two subsequent trips to the polls, the plainspoken Burns has followed the same strategy and never lost an election. In ’06, he will either spoil that record—or, with help from his fellow conservatives, be re-elected as U.S. senator.