Montana skyrocketed to competitive status earlier this year when Democrats finally convinced term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock to jump into the race and challenge first-term GOP Sen. Steve Daines. That decision at the beginning of March came just before the COVID pandemic spread throughout the U.S., limiting the amount of campaigning either candidate could do.
But the past few months have also highlighted the unique nature of this race, as the only contest with a sitting governor seeking a Senate seat. And like other governors who have ably handled the pandemic — especially in comparison to the Trump administration’s bungling — Bullock has seen his approval ratings rise exponentially too, up to 75 percent in one poll. Montana has had one of the lowest per capita infection rates (49th out of 50), with only 20 deaths as of June 17, and Bullock has gotten plaudits for closing the state early as it began to reopen last month.
So it’s not surprising that Bullock seems to have benefited from his gubernatorial leadership during this crisis and being in the news daily. Recent private Democratic polling in the contest gives Bullock a small lead and finds that Bullock’s approval ratings are more than 20 points higher than Daines, though the incumbent senator remains slightly above water. GOP polling also shows that it’s a close race, but one where every internal poll for them has still shown Daines leading. Yet, even some Republicans privately admit this is likely to be a margin of error race to the finish line. Each party just believes it’s their candidate who will eke out the victory.