Brian Schweitzer is one of the most popular Governors in the country but at this very early stage voters in Montana are still leaning toward voting for a Republican to replace him when he leaves office after 2012.
Schweitzer has a 55% approval rating with only 33% of voters in the state unhappy with his job performance. That ranks him 4th in popularity out of more than 30 Governors PPP has polled on across the country this year behind only Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Mike Beebe of Arkansas. Schweitzer is universally well liked by Democrats in the state at an 86/6 approval spread, very popular with independents particularly for a Democrat in this political climate at 58/29, and has an unusual amount of crossover support from Republicans with 28% approving of him and only a slight majority at 55% disapproving.
Despite Schweitzer's unusual popularity, voters in the state support a generic Republican for Governor in 2012 by a 49-39 margin. In a hypothetical match up former GOP Congressman Rick Hill, who's announced his candidacy, leads Attorney General Steve Bullock, who's thought to be a possible Democratic candidate, by a 41-31 margin. It's no coincidence that the margins on the generic and named match ups are nearly identical- Hill and Bullock are both pretty unknown in the state right now. 65% of voters say they don't know enough about Hill to have formed an impression and 64% say the same when it comes to Bullock.
Because the candidates themselves aren't real well known these early numbers are largely a function of Montana's Republican party identification advantage- Republicans are saying they'll vote for Republicans, Democrats are saying they'll vote for Democrats, and independents are splitting pretty evenly. If there's a real takeaway from these numbers it's that the primary contests for the race should be pretty wide open with none of the perceived leading contenders all that well known.
Full results here