Libertarian drops out of Montana Senate race, endorses Republican

Republicans have been hopeful about defeating Jon Tester of Montana, thereby wresting that seat from the Democrats. The polls haven’t been too encouraging, though.

Tester leads his Republican opponent Matt Rosendale in the Real Clear Politics average by 4.2 points. He leads by 3 points in the only recent survey I know of ( by Gravis, of 782 voters).

Until now, there has been a libertarian third candidate in the race — Rick Breckenridge. He doesn’t show up in the polls I’ve seen. However, David Parker, an associate professor of political science at Montana State University, says that Breckenridge is polling at about 2 percent.

Breckenridge has said he expects 3 to 4 percent of the vote. In 2012, the Libertarian candidate won more than 6 percent off the vote, aided, some say, by mailers sent by Tester supporters hoping to divide the opposition vote.

Now, Breckenridge has dropped out the race and endorsed Rosendale. He complained about the sending of anti-Rosendale mailers sent anonymously on his behalf — a repeat of the tactic used to help Tester in 2012.

However, the Montana Libertarian Party did not follow Breckenridge’s lead. With its guy out, the Party is not endorsing anyone.

Will Breckenridge’s withdrawal and endorsement put Rosendale over the top? Maybe, but only if the race is significantly closer than the RCP average indicates.

Keep in mind that, according to Parker, around 250,000 votes have already been cast. That’s probably about half of what the total vote will be, quite possibly more.

Thus, if Breckenridge was supported by 2 percent of the electorate, his withdrawal would assist Rosendale by 1 percent, assuming all of that support now migrates to the Republican — a generous assumption. Breckenridge himself says he expects his withdrawal/endorsement to impact about 1 percent of the vote.

Rosendale is in a better position today than he was yesterday. That we can say with confidence. However, he remains the underdog, in my opinion.