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Put to the Tester

Conrad Burns faces a favorite of the left in Montana

Issue: "Wildfire," June 24, 2006

Control of the United States Senate, and thus of the next one or two crucial nominations to the United States Supreme Court, may well turn on the fortunes of John Tester, an anti-war, populist farmer from Big Sandy, Mont. (population, 710).

Mr. Tester is the favorite of the "netroots," the often wild and almost always hard-left bloggers and MoveOn.org activists who have flooded the Democratic Party with their particular brand of energy and vitriol. Mr. Tester won his primary race over the favorite of Democratic Party regulars, State Auditor John Morrison, and his campaign-along with Ned Lamont's primary challenge in Connecticut to Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman-is now the rallying point for the Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party.

Montana, with its population of 900,000, isn't the likeliest place to restage Chicago, 1968: President Bush carried the deep-red state by 20 points over John Kerry. Www.TesterforSenate.com thus shows some restraint, but the candidate clearly intends to wage an endless smear campaign against incumbent Conrad Burns, first elected to the Senate in 1988.

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Sen. Burns (website: www.ConradBurns.com) is a Marine Corps veteran and a veteran broadcaster, but his 2000 victory margin of only 4 percent attracts the lefty netroots looking for a place to concentrate their anger. Mr. Tester hopes to tie Sen. Burns to Jack Abramoff because of Abramoff contributions to Burns campaign coffers, but the "culture of corruption" meme didn't move the results in a California special congressional election early in June.

Mr. Burns should win because Montana is a conservative state dependent on industries like minerals extraction that the left wants to shut down; most Montanans also support the war in Iraq and on other fronts. The left's longshot hope: Persuade Montana voters to ignore all that routinely motivates them in the voting booth in order to punish Conrad Burns.

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