Montana's at-large congressman, Republican Denny Rehberg, is expected to announce this Saturday that he will challenge first-term Democratic senator Jon Tester in 2012. From the Washington Post:

The Republican congressman will make his plans known Saturday, a source with knowledge of those plans told The Fix. The news was first reported late Monday by Roll Call.

Rehberg represents the GOP's prized recruit in Montana, and he makes the race instantly competitive in a way that no other Republican would have. A recent poll from Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling showed he and Tester in a statistical tie, with Rehberg at 48 percent and Tester at 46 percent.

Tester remains personally popular in the state, so it was key for Republicans to land a top contender to run against him. The two men had virtually identical approval ratings in the PPP poll.

As an at-large congressman, Rehberg has been elected statewide every two years since 2000, something Tester has only done once, in his first Senate race in 2006. Tester has been a pretty reliable Democratic vote in his first term, earning him high ratings from interest groups like the ACLU and NARAL Pro-Choice America. This, and his vote for legislation like Obamacare, probably won't sit well with a lot of Montana's conservative voters. And in 2006, Tester defeated scandal-ridden Republican senator Conrad Burns, running actively against the "earmark" culture of Washington. But according to the Center for American Progress, Tester has sponsored and co-sponsored over 200 earmarks in various bills over his term. Tester defeated Burns in 2006 by less than 4,000 votes, and that was in a bad year for Republicans. Rehberg hasn't had a tough race for his seat since 2000.

But it shouldn't be all despair for Montana Democrats. The party has a strong history in the Big Sky state, and Democrats have both senate seats and the governorship. In 2008, senior senator Max Baucus was reelected for a sixth term in a landslide. Montanans are conservative (and libertarian) by nature, but they have voted for Democrats many times before. Picking up this race would mean big things for Republicans in Montana and in the Senate.

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