With less than favorable polling for his upcoming reelection bid, Democratic senator Jon Tester of Montana will be a top 2012 Republican target. In 2006, Tester narrowly bested Republican incumbent Conrad Burns by just over 3,000 votes, and a large part of Tester's campaign against Burns--who was plagued by the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals--was focused on the need to cut spending and end earmarks.

In a 2006 debate, Tester railed against earmarks that snuck through without scrutiny, and then went one step further. “Quite frankly, I don't support earmarks, period,” the future senator said. Asked Wednesday by THE WEEKLY STANDARD about this quote, Tester first responded, “I haven’t eaten lunch yet,” before clarifying he is against earmarks "without transparency." That’s a different tune from his 2006 debate statement that he was against all earmarks "period."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Tester has sponsored or co-sponsored at least 239 earmarks since entering the Senate, including 92 earmarks totaling over $108 million for the 2010 fiscal year. Just months after Tester came to Washington, he issued a press release boasting of the $20 million earmarked for Montana in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill. That bill included a $500,000 earmark to renovate Cobb field, the stadium home to the Billings Mustangs--a minor league baseball team of the Cincinnati Reds.

Asked Wednesday if he supports a proposed moratorium on earmarks, Tester said he’s “thinking about it.”

Republican Denny Rehberg, Montana's at-large congressman, released a statement today urging Tester and Montana's senior senator, Democrat Max Baucus, to vote for the earmark ban. Here's a snippet:

“Senate Democrats may be the last 53 people in the country who haven’t noticed the old spending games won’t fly anymore,” said Rehberg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Last year, I joined House Republicans in a voluntary earmark moratorium. Now Democratic President Obama and Governor Schweitzer are hailing the foresight of this leadership and urging their Party allies to fall in line. Earmarks are headed toward extinction. It’s high time for Senate Democrats to heed the voice of the American voter.”

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