Burns v. Tester 

A long view on the horserace

Somewhere in the void between local bloggers addicted to opining about Montana’s tight U.S. Senate race and national reporters paid to track the contest’s developments sit four Virginia college students who, despite their professed ignorance of Montana and its issues, have created a nonpartisan blog about the battle between Jon Tester and Sen. Conrad Burns.

“The Last Best Place for the ’06 Montana Senate Race” is the recently launched class project of University of Richmond students Megan Cummings, Clancey Denis, Andrew Finley and Rachel Byrd, charged with covering the Montana race by journalism professor Steve Nash. Other groups in the class are covering races in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Rhode Island and Ohio. In mid-September, the blog found at http://keillor.richmond.edu/blojsom/blog/JOUR311_1/ went live and has since been updated daily with original interviews and analysis as well as links to existing stories and blogs on the race.

The task, they say, has proven more than a little overwhelming for a group of green journalists wading into a political and geographical world with which they are utterly unfamiliar, nevermind that Montana has fewer residents than metropolitan Richmond, where the students live.

“I’ve never been to Montana…but I used to live in Iowa so I might be a little more attuned than my classmates,” Finley says.

Though Montana may be a world away from Virginia (not to mention Iowa), the students have managed to round up many of the relevant sources and issues routinely bombarding Montanans, and a few, like the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center’s Ethel MacDonald, not counted among the usual suspects.

But there have been surprises and insecurities, too. Denis is im- pressed by the friendly and apparently well-versed citizenry: “I was just surprised by how in-formed people are; everyone seems to care,” she says. “It’s such a small community for being such a large state.”

Finley, meanwhile, sounds hyper-aware of his minor role in Montana’s race: “It’s completely legitimate to say, ‘You’re four kids from Virginia; what good do you have to say about Montana politics?’”

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