The Abramoff scandal hits Montana

Republican Senator Conrad Burns' close ties to a disgraced lobbyist dim his chances for reelection.

By Farhad Manjoo

Published December 28, 2005 3:49PM (EST)

Of all the scandals swirling about Republicans in Washington these days, we're guessing the Jack Abramoff affair isn't the one you're most likely to have casually discussed with the family over the holidays. Abramoff -- unlike, say, Plame -- isn't one of those names that rolls nicely off the tongue, or goes will with the suffix "gate"; many in the GOP hope that the case is too complex, and too peripheral, to directly affect the fortunes of any of its members.

As the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza points out, however, the Abramoff imbroglio now appears to be entering the political calculus of voters in Montana, whose Republican senator Conrad Burns has recently been forced to return $150,000 in campaign money donated by Abramoff. Burns, who is up for reelection next year, is plainly in a tough spot here: In a new statewide poll, 58 percent of survey respondents said they were very or somewhat concerned about Burns' ties to the lobbyist.

Burns, who closely beat out Democrat Brian Schweitzer -- now the state's governor -- in 2000, will likely face either John Morrison, Montana's auditor, or State Senator Jon Tester in November. He's ahead of both of them in the new poll's head-to-head matchup -- but his lead has narrowed considerably from earlier surveys. He leads Morrison by just six points now, 46 to 40 percent. And with Montana's Democratic Party running blistering television ads against Burns -- tagline: "Tell Burns to work for Montana's working families, not indicted lobbyists" --- the lead looks sure to shrink further.

In other words, considering the news from Montana, Pennsylvania, and even Mississippi, Happy New Year!

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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