Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) will announce Saturday he is challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
“It’s happening Saturday,” said a knowledgeable Montana GOP political operative. “He’s running. There is a lot of support and enthusiasm back home, and Denny knows he can win.”
Rehberg’s status as a well-known at-large Congressman immediately pushes the matchup between the two Big Sky State politicians to among the most competitive Senate races in the country. Recent polling conducted for the Rehberg campaign bears that out.
The operative offered some internal Rehberg polling numbers showing the Montana Republican in a statistical tie with Tester in a prospective 2012 matchup.
The Opinion Diagnostics survey of 400 likely Montana voters showed 49 percent backing Rehberg compared with 43 percent for Tester and 8 percent undecided. In a three-way matchup featuring Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer running as an independent, Rehberg led 44 percent to Tester’s 28 percent and Schweitzer’s 18 percent. Eleven percent were undecided.
The poll, conducted Jan. 5, has a margin of error of 4.65 percent.
Rehberg will make the announcement at Saturday’s Lincoln/Reagan dinner in Helena. Tea party darling Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is also expected to attend.
Rehberg failed in his first attempt to win a Senate seat in 1996, losing to Democratic Sen. Max Baucus. He was first elected to the House in 2000.
Republicans say Rehberg, who is serving his sixth term in the House and was recently named an Appropriations Committee cardinal, gives the GOP its best chance at unseating the first-term Democrat.
Steve Daines, a Republican businessman already in the Senate race, is expected to announce on Thursday that he will instead run for Rehberg’s House seat.
Rumors of the potential swap have swirled in Montana ever since Daines jumped into the race in November, with Rehberg long believed to be the top Republican candidate.
Given Rehberg’s clout, few if any other Republicans are expected to jump in, allowing the Congressman to spend the next 21 months focused on Tester.
Erin Billings contributed to this report.