HELENA, Mont. (AP) _ Max Baucus remembers well the surprise defeat that Montana voters dealt fellow Democratic Sen. John Melcher in 1988, and he’s maneuvering early to avoid a similar fate.
The two-term senator faces little challenge in the Democratic primary on June 5, but he’s amassing a stash of campaign cash to combat the winner of the four-way Republican primary.
Baucus has raised about $2 million for what he expects will be a $2.5 million campaign, the most expensive in the history of rural Montana.
Two years ago, the National Republican Senatorial Committee pumped $205,000 into the state GOP, including $138,000 in the last month of the campaign, to help challenger Conrad Burns overtake Melcher.
Baucus said the national GOP has targeted him in hopes of a repeat.
″Republican candidates have said they and the Republican National Committee will do whatever it takes to win this seat,″ Baucus said.
The likely beneficiary of that Republican support is unclear.
A statewide poll taken in April showed no clear leader in the GOP race between Lt. Gov. Allen Kolstad and businessman-scientist Bruce Vorhauer. State Sen. Bill Farrell and former business executive John Domenech lagged behind.
In the Democratic primary, Baucus is heavily favored over John Driscoll, a member of the state Public Service Commission, and Billings evangelist Curly Thornton.
Driscoll has attacked Baucus for obtaining 86 percent of his campaign financing from out-of-state interests. But most of the debate has been among the GOP candidates.
Kolstad has made an issue of his lifelong ties to Montana, contrasting his background to that of Vorhauer, who became a state resident only last fall, and Domenech, who moved to Bozeman four years ago.
Farrell has accused Kolstad of not addressing the issues. Vorhauer and Farrell have taken a pro-choice position on abortion, while Kolstad and Domenech are anti-abortion.
For the most part, the Republicans have similar views on other issues and emphasize differences in style and personality.
Kolstad, 58, was a state legislator for 20 years and operates a family farm and ranch in north-central Montana. He joined Stan Stephens in the 1988 gubernatorial race to become the No. 2 person in Montana’s first GOP administration in 20 years.
Kolstad was the last to enter the Senate race, but yielded to entreaties from President Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle, former President Reagan and other national GOP leaders seeking a well-known challenger.
Farrell, 41, who owns a trucking company, stresses the blue-collar roots that he believes set him apart from the other candidates.
Domenech, 36, quit his job as president of a pharmaceutical testing firm to run for the Senate. He touts his business experience and said he decided to run because he was angry about a lack of economic opportunities in Montana.
Vorhauer, 48, best known as the inventor of the Today contraceptive sponge, has divided his time between California, Nevada and Montana since 1979. He helped found or develop four businesses in western Montana.
Baucus, 48, was born and raised in Helena, the son of a prominent Montana ranching family. He entered politics in 1972 when he was elected to the state House. Two years later he went on to Congress and served two House terms before being elected to the Senate in 1978. He was re-elected in 1984 with 57 percent of the vote.
Driscoll is making his second challenge to Baucus; he finished last in a three-way Democratic primary in 1978. Thornton, who has made preaching against alcohol and drug abuse the centerpiece of his campaign, was new to politics in 1988 when he finished last in a six-man Democratic gubernatorial primary.