Fresh from his final debate against incumbent U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, Gov. Steve Bullock strolled into Democrat-friendly territory last Sunday and made a string of promises to Missoula voters regarding health care, education and public lands access. Days later he joined Alluvion Health for a news conference discussing one of the more positive developments to emerge from the pandemic, before finishing out the week alongside several fellow Democratic candidates at a rally in Great Falls. Numerous news outlets churned out deep-dive profiles on the Battle of the Steves, including Montana Free Press and Helena’s Independent Record, while MTN News’ Mike Dennison picked over both candidates’ claims to bipartisanship. And with the election just weeks away, Bullock appears to have his feet firmly planted on the race’s fundraising high ground.

Far from shrinking from the fight, Daines spent last week making stops across the state alongside prominent national officials. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Jim Hubbard joined him in Missoula Tuesday for an address aimed at wildland firefighters, the same day Daines attended a hotel groundbreaking in Anaconda with a top member of the EPA. On Wednesday, Daines visited with ag industry leaders on a ranch in Belgrade and met up with farmers and ranchers from Sidney. Friday brought a grizzly bear roundtable featuring U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith, and this week, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is slated to travel the state stumping for Daines.

COVID-19 quickly became the topic of the week in Montana’s gubernatorial race after local health officials in Helena linked several positive cases to an Oct. 3 “Let Freedom Ring” concert attended by Republican candidate Greg Gianforte. Democratic contender Mike Cooney’s subsequent demand that Gianforte get tested drew a pointed response from Gianforte’s campaign. Cooney briefly suspended his own in-person campaigning, voicing concern that the concert had occurred three days before he and Gianforte met maskless on a debate stage, but Cooney ultimately tested negative.

Down-ticket statewide races are attracting increasing media attention as voters fill out their ballots at home. In addition to Montana Free Press’ series of campaign profiles last week, the UM School of Journalism’s Community News Service continued to focus its efforts on the showdown races for Montana secretary of state and attorney general. Bozeman’s KBZK took a look at the race for state auditor, while elsewhere in the Gallatin Valley, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle applied its own pen to one of the heated races for the Montana Public Service Commission and the recent dismissal of a campaign complaint in that same race.

A final note: President Donald Trump’s promise to visit Montana this election season never came true. But he did drop in by telephone last Wednesday for a tele-rally supporting Daines and Republican U.S. House contender Matt Rosendale, and he made some pretty strong claims about his appeal among Treasure State voters.

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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...