As polls continue to show Sen. Steve Daines’ path to reelection being anything but easy, the Republican incumbent is welcoming any news that can further boost his profile. Last week delivered several such items, including Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s endorsement of a Daines’ co-authored forest management bill and an announcement that Daines had secured more than $300,000 in federal funds for a rural Montana fire department. The biggest lift, however, came in the form of Vice President Mike Pence, who appeared alongside Daines and praised his senatorial career at a Belgrade rally that left local health officials more than a little concerned.

Pence also seized the moment to fire a shot at Daines’ Democratic challenger, Gov. Steve Bullock, who had a busy week of his own announcing statewide protocols for schools experiencing coronavirus outbreaks. Bullock took his turn over the weekend, sending a volley in Daines’ direction over the incumbent’s response to the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Bullock also paid a visit of his own to Gallatin County, participating in a roundtable focused on a very specific need among Montana veterans. And both candidates made their cases Friday before a group whose line of work has become intensely politicized this cycle.

Bullock’s lieutenant governor and would-be Democratic successor, Mike Cooney, kicked off his week with a Sunday speech in Butte focused on education and the quick improvements he hopes to make in health care. The appearance followed a similar event in Polson the day before where Cooney exchanged some curt words with a vocal face-mask critic. Cooney, who has raised a considerable amount of campaign money in the past month, then made a stop in Great Falls to announce several proposals to benefit first responders and union workers.

Organized labor landed on the plate of Republican Greg Gianforte’s gubernatorial campaign as well, with running mate Kristen Juras abruptly walking back her statement suggesting Gianforte would not oppose a state right-to-work bill. The statement came during Juras’ foray along the Hi-Line, where she sat down with newspapers for a rollicking conversation about agriculture, resource development and technology deftly captured by the Sidney Herald’s Eric Gill. Gianforte himself had recently passed through the area to hear from community leaders in Toole County about their creative approach to the coronavirus crisis.

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Flathead County draws COVID enforcement

After encouraging local governments to more aggressively enforce public health orders including a statewide mask mandate, Gov. Steve Bullock said Thursday that the state is pursuing enforcement measures against businesses in Flathead County that have repeatedly flouted health mandates.

Broods in the woods

According to Natural Start Alliance, an organization that promotes access to early-childhood environmental education, the number of nature-based preschools, so-called forest kindergartens and outdoor preschools (collectively known as nature preschools) in the U.S. has grown 25-fold over the past decade, and more than doubled over the past three years to approximately 585.

When local news isn’t local

While Montana’s media landscape has for years included left- and right-leaning political blogs authored by resident partisans, Big Sky Times and eight other Montana-focused sites affiliated with Metric Media represent a new trend: digital news outlets that present themselves as community news sites even though they operate without a local editorial staff and appear to promote a political agenda.

There was little civility to be found in the race for attorney general Sunday as Republican Austin Knudsen and Democrat Raph Graybill squared off in MTN News’ latest virtual debate. Between discussions about the Affordable Care Act and combating Montana’s drug epidemic, the two exchanged increasingly bitter criticisms over each others’ eligibility for the job.

One final note on the Pence rally that’s dominated headlines these past weeks: With their congressional agendas demanding a prompt post-rally return to Washington, D.C., both Daines and Gianforte hitched a rare ride. Gianforte dished to KGVO’s Peter Christian about his experience on Air Force Two, and who he spoke with by phone during the flight.


See a full archive of statewide media coverage of Montana candidates — plus fundraising numbers, a voting FAQ, and candidate responses to primary questionnaires — at MTFP’s 2020 Election Guide.

Freelance writer Alex Sakariassen has spent the past decade writing long-form narrative stories that spotlight the people, the politics, and the wilds of Montana. A North Dakota native, Sakariassen splits his free time between Missoula’s ski slopes and the quiet trout water of the Rocky Mountain Front. Contact Alex by email at alex.sakariassen@gmail.com.