From heated exchanges over the state’s pandemic response to a quip about Vice President Mike Pence’s recent visit, the Battle of the Steves got personal last Monday night during the second debate in Montana’s U.S. Senate race. Republican incumbent Steve Daines exited the stage into a full week’s docket, including a tour of the Colstrip power plant alongside U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and a meeting with Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, whom Daines fully endorsed regardless of concerns from Montana’s Indian Caucus over the rush to fill former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat. Democratic challenger Steve Bullock had a busy post-debate week as well, urging stricter measures by local health officials to stem Montana’s rising COVID-19 case count and checking in with a Billings business to gauge the effectiveness of one very specific pandemic response grant.

Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Mike Cooney had a similarly attack-laden face-off in their first gubernatorial debate on Saturday, warring over taxes, public land access and who could lay claim to being the most bipartisan candidate on stage. The debate capped a week of gubernatorial focus by its host, MTN News reporter Mike Dennison, who delivered in-depth looks at how the contenders for governor differ on education policy and the state’s economy. Community News Service’s Bella Butler also gave the race an analytical treatment in a story dissecting the narratives each candidate has built thus far, while Perrin Stein at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle mined the candidates’ messaging on economic growth and recovery.

Following up on a tense debate exchange between U.S. House candidates Kathleen Williams and Matt Rosendale the previous week, Dennison on Oct. 2 also dove deeper into the flow of money from campaign coffers to candidates themselves. Williams, meanwhile, set off on a six-day, 24-town campaign tour last Thursday, and pitched herself as a bipartisan policy-maker during a subsequent stop in Billings. Up until the tour, Williams had been campaigning virtually, and according to Char-Koosta News was the only statewide Democratic candidate to appear by video rather than in-person at a Sept. 26 rally at Salish Kootenai College.

Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal member Shane Morigeau spoke at length with the Havre Daily News about his Democratic bid for state auditor, stating his intention to carry on his legislative support for Medicaid expansion and to rein in predatory insurance companies. The piece was one of three the paper dedicated to candidates for state auditor. Republican Troy Downing took his turn to push a message of protecting Montana consumers and educating consumers on the different insurance options available to them. Libertarian Roger Roots candidly shared his plans to defund the auditor’s office and make Montana’s public lands more profitable.

On a final note, while the coronavirus has made health care an even more prominent issue in 2020 campaigns across the board, the pandemic’s impact on the design of November’s election — and a resulting legal battle — became a necessary talking point this month for the Republican and Democratic candidates in the race for secretary of state.

This story was updated October 5, 2020, to correct a misattribution: Bella Butler reports for the University of Montana’s Community News Service, not the Laurel Outlook, which published Butler’s story about Montana’s gubernatorial candidates.


Federal judges skeptical of ‘wait until 2023’ argument in PSC redistricting case

A panel of federal judges assembled to hear a lawsuit challenging the districts used to elect Montana’s Public Service Commission indicated in a ruling Thursday that they’re hesitant to wait until 2023 to give the Montana Legislature a chance to update the districts for population change at its next regular session. Instead, the judges extended…

Staff reporter Alex Sakariassen covers the education beat and the state Legislature for Montana Free Press. Alex spent the past decade writing long-form narrative stories that spotlight the people, the politics, and the wilds of Montana. A North Dakota native, he splits his free time between Missoula’s ski slopes and the quiet trout water of the Rocky Mountain Front. Contact Alex by email at