The U.S. Senate race hit a critical tipping point in the final weeks before the election, with MTN News’ Mike Dennison noting Oct. 6 that the Battle of the Steves has likely set a new state record for most spending in a single contest. And Republican incumbent Sen. Steve Daines is clearly taking the challenge seriously. He dedicated several days last week to a tour with Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton that included a discussion about military issues in Great Falls, a visit to a firearm manufacturer in Kalispell and a meeting with the creators of a made-in-Montana face mask in Billings. Daines finished out the week with a final round of televised thrust and parry against Democratic opponent Gov. Steve Bullock.

Bullock made some in-person stops of his own last week, starting with a press conference in Billings announcing coronavirus relief funds for the local Minor League Baseball team. Thursday found Bullock in Butte for the ceremonial signing of a key creek restoration memorandum and a tour of a veterans’ facility alongside Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. Despite a continued rise in COVID-19 cases, Bullock opted not to issue any new statewide restrictions last week, and his statements about the situation in Flathead County fueled a slight dust-up with local officials.

Democratic U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams finished out a whirlwind six-day tour with appearances at Libby’s Riverfront Park, Missoula’s Caras Park and a hilltop overlooking Butte. Her race against Republican Matt Rosendale got in-depth treatment from the UM School of Journalism’s Community News Service last week, and Rosendale’s Tea Party origins were the subject of a detailed profile in the Billings Gazette.

Cooney went head-to-head with Republican gubernatorial rival Greg Gianforte over public lands and economic recovery in a Tuesday night debate. From there, Cooney went on to host a Billings roundtable on public safety alongside law enforcement officials and mental health specialists. Gianforte, meanwhile, hit the road with his fellow 2020 Republican candidates for a multi-stop “Get Out the Vote” tour, and took the opportunity in Livingston to stump on his Bozeman-area business accomplishments.

Voters finally got a peek at several races for the Montana Public Service Commission last week, starting with the southwestern showdown between Republican James Brown and Democrat Tom Woods. A piece on the southeastern fight between incumbent Republican Tony O’Donnell and Democrat Valerie McMurtry examined the candidates’ opposing views on whether current electricity rates in Montana are fair and whether dysfunction within the PSC has impacted the body’s decisions in recent years.

On a final note, several statewide campaigns found themselves responding earlier this month to a befuddling advertisement snafu that compelled the AARP to state publicly its aversion to endorsing, opposing or contributing to any political candidate.

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NorthWestern abandons Colstrip bid

NorthWestern Energy said Thursday it is withdrawing a bid to purchase an expanded share in the Colstrip coal power plant from Washington-based Puget Sound Energy, blaming the Washington state government and the Montana Public Service Commission for failing to support the acquisition.

National groups fuel political blitz

With the contest between incumbent U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock among the country’s closest U.S. Senate races, political dollars have surged into the race from around the nation, funding the steady barrage of mailers and political advertisements now pelting Montana voters.

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.