Three-term incumbent Conrad Burns is the junior senator from Montana and has been designated by some political analysts as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the Senate due to his connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Abramoff associates and clients gave more campaign money to Burns than to any other member of Congress, the Billings Gazette reported. Although Burns returned the money and has denied any wrongdoing, the connection continues to impact his run for a fourth consecutive term.
Political analysts say the race will be a tough one.
"The gloves are off already," Craig Wilson, political scientist at Montana State University-Billings, told the Billings Gazette. "This is a 15-round, bare-knuckles political contest."
Burns' campaign staff are presenting the race as one between a true conservative, Burns, and a true liberal, Democratic candidate Jon Tester.
"What it comes down to is that Massachusetts doesn't deserve a third senator," Burns campaign spokesman Jason Klindt said. "We need someone who advocates for Montana values and has the seniority to deliver."
That seniority includes sitting on the Senate Appropriations Committee and his record of securing more than $2 billion in federal grants for Montana, according to the Billings Gazette.
Burns also chairs the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee's Communications Subcommittee.
Born on a farm near Gallatin, Mo. on Jan. 25, 1935, Burns served
in the Marine Corps and held a variety of jobs including as an
airline clerk, cattle magazine salesman, auctioneer, agricultural
radio and television reporter before establishing his own agricultural
broadcasting network, the Northern Ag Network, in Montana in 1975.
The network had grown from four radio stations to serving 31 radio and TV stations across Montana and Wyoming by the time Burns sold it in 1986.
His political career began in 1986 when he won a seat on the Yellowstone County Commission. Burns served on the commission for two years before running for the U.S. Senate in 1988.
Burns, now the longest-serving Republican senator in Montana, has encountered both close and solid wins.
His first race against incumbent Democrat John Melcher was a narrow one with Burns receiving 51 percent of the vote to Melcher's 48 percent. With this victory Burns became only the second Republican senator in the state's history.
But his 1994 victory against Democrat Jack Mudd was a clear one. Burns routed Mudd, former dean of the University of Montana law school, 62 percent to 38 percent.
By 2000, Burns' third Senate race was again close. He ran for an additional term despite promising in 1988 to only run for two terms. Burns won 51 percent to 47 percent over Democratic challenger Brian Schweitzer, who went on to win Montana's governor race in 2004.
Burns has been married to wife Phyllis since 1967 and the couple have two children, daughter Keely and son Garrett.