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On the November 6 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN/U.S. correspondent Christopher Lawrence baselessly asserted that Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) is "highly respected in the state of Montana," but that "he is vulnerable because of his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff." As reported by the Associated Press on November 24, 2005, Burns is "tie[d]" to Abramoff, having "collected nearly $150,000 in Abramoff-related donations between 2001 and 2004." However, Lawrence did not note that recent polling indicates that most people in Montana disapprove of Burns and nearly half view him unfavorably, or that Burns's "ties" to Abramoff are not his sole political liability. Additionally, Lawrence said that Burns's Democratic opponent, Jon Tester, is "not your typical Democrat," because he is a "third-generation farmer" and "runs a butcher shop," suggesting that few Democrats hold similar occupations.
An October 13-15 SurveyUSA News poll of Montana adults found that 40 percent of respondents approved of "the job Conrad Burns is doing as United States Senator," while 56 percent disapproved -- the question had a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points. The same poll indicated that Montana's Democratic Sen. Max Baucus polled significantly better, with 61 percent of respondents approving of the job he is doing, compared with 30 percent who disapproved; this question had a margin of error of +/- 4 points. In an October 31-November 2 Mason-Dixon poll of registered Montana voters, with a margin of error of +/- 4 margin points, 44 percent of respondents said they had a "favorable ... opinion" of Burns, while 42 percent had an "unfavorable" opinion. In the same poll, 44 percent of respondents had a "favorable" opinion of Tester, while 40 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
In its endorsement of Tester, Montana's largest daily newspaper, the Billings Gazette, noted the "allegations of impropriety" concerning contributions Burns's campaign received but also asserted that "Burns has problems that haven't beset the other two members of Montana's delegation, one being a tendency to make offensive comments that hurt him and Montana's image." As Media Matters for America documented, the Associated Press reported that, in July, Burns "confronted members of a firefighting team at the Billings airport [who had] traveled 2,000 miles from Staunton, Va., to help dig fire lines for about a week around a 143-square-mile wildfire east of Billings," saying that they had done a "piss-poor job" and that one firefighter in particular hadn't "done a g-- damned thing." As Media Matters also noted, Burns stated that terrorists are a "faceless enemy" who "drive taxicabs in the daytime and kill at night." Similarly, The Washington Post noted in August that "[s]even years earlier, Burns apologized for calling Arabs 'ragheads' in a speech about high oil prices."
From the November 6 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
LAWRENCE: Jon Tester is president of the Montana state Senate, but he's also a third-generation farmer. He sports a buzz cut and runs a butcher shop on the side. In fact, he probably will show off his three missing fingers -- all of which he lost to a meat grinder, so he's not your typical Democrat here.
Now, President Bush won this state by 20 points in 2004. It has been solidly Republican and the incumbent has been in office for 18 years. Now, Conrad Burns did get a campaign stop from President Bush, who is trying to encourage Republican voters here in Montana to turn out on Election Day. Burns is highly respected in the state of Montana, but he is vulnerable because of his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Depending on how things shake out in states like Missouri and Virginia, the entire control of the Senate could really boil down to just a few hundred thousand voters right here in Montana.