Ethics, anyone? 

In a matter of days, Montana Democrats will go to the ballot box to choose a challenger to take on embattled Republican Sen. Conrad Burns…and then the gloves come off. It’s no secret that Burns’ connections with former superlobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff will be the Democrats’ most powerful talking point in this election cycle, but does that mean ethics will take center stage in local House and Senate races?

Missoula activist Rick Gold thinks they should.

Gold, who launched a website this month called ComeCleanMontana.org, is urging Montanans to sign a petition demanding “full and complete disclosure from our elected Montana Representatives of all person or persons who seek to influence them with gifts and donations in their elected capacities.”

“The recent scandals with our elected representatives taking gifts and donations from convicted felon, Jack Abramoff, are a wakeup call for all concerned Montanans,” Gold writes on the website.

But political analysts aren’t so sure ethics will be either deal-maker or deal-breaker for Montanans come November.

“Democrats up and down the ballot will try to carry the ethics banner, but I’m doubtful that it’s a silver-bullet issue,” says Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

And Gonzales says it would be tough for statewide or local candidates to hitch their Republican opponents’ wagons to Burns’ ethical woes.

“Unless someone is specifically involved in some of the dealings that Burns may have had with Abramoff, I don’t think that’s going to be a winning issue.”

Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report agrees, but says the Abramoff scandal could impact voter turnout.

“The concern for Republicans right now is that the scandal demoralizes the party and they don’t turn out to vote,” Duffy says.

But with the recent news of a high-profile scandal in which New Orleans Democratic Congressman Bill Jefferson was caught on videotape accepting $100,000 in cash (later retrieved from his freezer) and questions continuing to swirl around State Auditor and Senate hopeful John Morrison’s handling of a securities fraud case involving his former mistress’ husband, it’s at least clear that Republicans aren’t the only ones lugging ethical baggage these days.

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