Gov. Steve Bullock spent a fair amount of time afield in Montana the past few weeks. His recent senatorial campaign trek to Hill County made the Sept. 21 pages of the Havre Daily News, which captured Bullock’s reaction to some candid criticism from a local business owner about that state’s pandemic response. The renaming of a state fishing access site to honor a longtime defender of public lands access then took Bullock to the banks of the Big Hole River. But his biggest newsbreak last week occurred in the Great Falls chambers of U.S. District Judge Brian Morris, who ruled in Bullock’s favor in a lawsuit to remove acting Bureau of Land Management Director William Perry Pendley.

For incumbent Sen. Steve Daines, the prevailing narrative last week centered on the Republican rush to replace deceased Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before Election Day. Faced with public charges of hypocrisy stemming from his opposition to an election-year appointment in 2016, Daines tried to justify why the situation in 2020 demands swift action. And despite the presence of protesters outside his Bozeman office, Daines went on to praise Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Saturday. National news and analysis outlet FiveThirtyEight posited that the issue may actually help Daines gain ground in the tight race.

Democrat Kathleen Williams and Republican Matt Rosendale went head to head in their first U.S. House debate last Wednesday, each speaking to an array of issues including health care, border security and criminal justice in Indian County. Their repeated barb-trading served to highlight a core difference between the two: their search for solutions via government versus the private sector. And while a recent New York Times poll puts Williams ahead, the margin is narrow, and the newspaper cautioned that issues regarding the Green Party likely led to flawed results.

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The Associated Press’ Matt Brown took a feature-length look at Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte Sept. 25, examining his longtime alliance with Daines and their shared effort to steer Montana in a very specific political direction. Gianforte’s wealth has given him a financial edge in the race, but Democratic candidate Mike Cooney managed to outraise him roughly two-to-one in the past month. Cooney’s own campaign path led him to Bozeman Brewing Company last Friday for a brief chat about energy policy, and both gubernatorial hopefuls attended a virtual forum with the Montana Tavern Association, along with attorney general contenders Republican Austin Knudsen and Democrat Raph Graybill.

Speaking of virtual politicking, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle made Melissa Romano, Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction, the face of coronavirus-era campaign strategy with a detailed interview about her use of Zoom during the 2020 cycle, and why she opted to go with a paid subscription.

One final observation from last week: With the election now just five weeks away, Republicans in Montana have resurrected a familiar line of attack against top-tier Democrats. But gun rights advocate Gary Marbut put an interesting twist on the issue of who will champion the Second Amendment, publicly scolding Bullock over a photo on a campaign mailer.

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.

Alex Sakariassen is a 2008 graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism, where he worked for four years at the Montana Kaimin student newspaper and cut his journalistic teeth as a paid news intern for the Choteau Acantha for two summers. After obtaining his bachelor's degree in journalism and history, Sakariassen spent nearly 10 years covering environmental issues and state and federal politics for the alternative newsweekly Missoula Independent. He transitioned into freelance journalism following the Indy's abrupt shuttering in September 2018, writing in-depth features, breaking...