Conrad Burns invoked his barnyard cred in television ads last week attempting to alleviate Montanans’ growing suspicion that their junior Senator may have spent a little too much time in the proverbial hayloft with disgraced-lobbyist-turned-government-snitch Jack Abramoff.

While Burns tried to shovel himself out of a stall full of something he couldn’t bear to name, the Montana GOP was hard at work trying to stanch the stench of corruption through a variety of influence-peddlings an unrepentant Abramoff could only laud.

Nothing cleans up a politician’s name like loud and unsolicited proclamations of innocence, and the Billings Gazette wondered how its readers were responding to Burns’ proclamations of non-crookhood with a poll that asked: “How concerned are you about Senator Burns’ relationship with indicted D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff?” Readers could respond that they were “very concerned,” “somewhat concerned,” “not too concerned,” “not at all concerned” or “not sure.”

Seeing that Burns was taking a beating in the poll, the Montana GOP came to the rescue by urging its faithful to bombard the website with votes in support of Burns.

“Please visit the Gazette’s website and let Montana know which party has the larger e-mail list…er, I mean let Montana know your opinion,” read the E-brief. “And here’s a helpful hint,” it continued: “if you clear your browser’s cookies and reload the page, you can vote as many times as you like.”

Thanks to the GOP’s poll-stuffing efforts, the poll came out in Burns’ favor. Of nearly 60,000 “votes” received, about 50 percent said they were “not at all concerned.”

And hey, if we were the sort of people who didn’t mind helping corrupt the process, we probably wouldn’t be much concerned about Burns either.

Party hacks followed that effort on Jan. 26 by urging readers to visit the Helena Independent Record’s website, where a similar poll was posted.

“Last week we asked you to help us beat the Democrats at their own game in a Billings Gazette online poll on Senator Burns. And beat them we did,” boasted the Montana GOP.

“Please take a moment to do a small thing that will make a big difference for Senator Burns.”

The IR poll asked readers, “Are you concerned about Sen. Conrad Burns’ ties to Jack Abramoff?”

Of the 1,139 who responded, 614 said “yes” and 525 said “no.”

“It seems that Republicans will stop at nothing to shift attention away from Conrad Burns’ involvement with Jack Abramoff,” says Jessica Rhoades, spokeswoman for the Montana Democratic Party. “This is just one more example of the culture of corruption and dirty politics we’ve come to expect from Republicans in Montana.”

Not to get all partisan about it, but we’re finding it hard to disagree.

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