Sen. Conrad Burns appears to be closing the gap on his Democratic challenger, Jon Tester, according to a new poll. A Rasmussen Reports poll in Montana released this week found Tester just 2 percentage points ahead of Republican incumbent Burns, 48 percent to 46 percent.
When "leaners"or undecided voters who indicate a preference for one candidateare included, Tester leads by 49 percent to 46 percent. The race has always been close, but according to the findings of previous Rasmussen polls, Burns appears to be gaining. Tester led by 9 points in a September poll and by 6 points earlier this month.
Rasmussen has now recategorized the race from "Leans Democrat" to "Tossup." The poll was conducted on October 18, the day after the two candidates sparred in a televised debate over the war in Iraq, tax cuts, and corruption.
The Burns campaign was obviously happy about the news and publicized the survey's results. "Conrad now clearly has the momentum," says Erik Iverson, senior adviser to the Burns campaign. "As more Montanans learn about Jon Tester's liberal record, they are deciding he's not the candidate to represent their values."
In March, Jason Klindt, a spokesman for Burns, told the Billings Gazette that he questioned the reliability of the Rasmussen Reports polls because they involve a recorded voice asking the person answering the telephone to press touch-tone buttons to answer questions, which differs from other polls that use live interviewers.
Matt McKenna, spokesman for Tester, says the new poll findings were not unexpected. "This poll and many others have confirmed what we have known all alongthat this race is close," he told U.S. News, "but that people in Montana are hungry for real change and honest leadership."