"Burns is the devil we know"

Taking the pulse of small-town Montana at the polls.

Published November 8, 2006 12:06AM (EST)

Winds howled and voters flocked to the county fairgrounds today here in Livingston, Mont., an edgy little city of 7,000 souls along the banks of the Yellowstone River. The central question for them: Vote for three-term incumbent Republican Sen. Conrad Burns or his rival, the president of the Montana state Senate, Jon Tester?

There has been talk today of a near-record turnout; a random buttonholing of how folks voted cut in both directions.

"None of your damn business," snorted a man of around 60 years of age, when asked whether he had voted Republican, Democratic or Libertarian, although he qualified that by describing himself as a "traditional conservative." What that means in "deep purple" Montana is anybody's guess.

"We don't need no junior senator," said Joe Colvin, who used to manage Martin's Cafe next to the Great Northern railway depot, alluding to the Burns' campaign strategy of convincing folks that his long tenure in Washington makes him uniquely capable of bringing home vast amounts of federal pork -- and that that money will evaporate if Tester wins. Colvin had been planning to vote for Tester, but apparently had changed his mind at the last minute after having a talk with some friends.

Down Main Street, at Chadz's Coffee House, a mixture of Burns and Tester supporters jostled for free gourmet java by furnishing a sticker proving they had voted at the fairgrounds.

"I voted for Burns because he is the devil we know," said 60-something Jean Sandberg, who expressed worry that the country was headed into World War III.

"I voted for him last time but couldn't do it again," said her daughter, Beverly, whose husband, Rudy, was former in the Army. "I got on the same plane with Burns a couple of years ago, and he was slapping the girls on the back and generally making himself into a walking embarrassment for Montana."

By Thomas Goltz

MORE FROM Thomas Goltz

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room