Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines got a campaign assist early last week from former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who traversed the state to share her assessment of just how critical Montana’s 2020 senate race is. Daines himself had a busy week back in Washington, announcing the impending introduction of a bill that speaks to his stance on “court packing” and denouncing Amtrak’s reduction in rail service along the Hi-Line. The pandemic became a particular focus for Daines as he asked FEMA to assess Montana’s need for additional federal relief and urged the CDC to put boots on the ground in Yellowstone County to assist with rising COVID-19 case counts.

Coronavirus was also front-of-mind for Daines’ Democratic challenger, Gov. Steve Bullock, who cautioned last Tuesday that the state could face another economic slump if Montanans don’t take health guidelines more seriously. Bullock also dropped by a Missoula daycare program for an up-close look at where CARES Act dollars have gone before announcing new pandemic response measures Friday that include an avenue for anonymous compliance complaints. Perhaps his biggest election-related moment of the week came when he accompanied his daughter Caroline on a civic milestone.

A new set of polls sent mixed messages about Montana’s U.S. House race last week. One survey conducted by NBC Montana and 360 Strategies put Democrat Kathleen Williams and Republican Matt Rosendale in a dead heat with 46% each, while a recent New York Times/Siena College poll had Rosendale up with 50% to Williams’ 46%.

News broke Oct. 20 that Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte had loaned his campaign an additional $4 million, bringing his campaign war chest well above that of Democratic rival Mike Cooney. And MTN News’ Mike Dennison took a detailed look at the business background that ultimately put Gianforte in such an advantageous position. Meanwhile, Cooney’s campaign got dinged for campaign finance violations related to support from the Democratic Governors Association — just days before Gianforte’s camp was hit with violations concerning a much larger dollar amount.

Several statewide races became even more charged last week, starting with Democratic superintendent of public instruction candidate Melissa Romano’s criticism that incumbent Republican Elsie Arntzen had mishandled coronavirus relief funds for Montana schools. Court records emerged documenting a number of past allegations against Republican state auditor candidate Troy Downing by his ex-wife. And on Sunday, Lee Newspapers’’ Holly Michels revealed that a filing system touted by Republican secretary of state candidate and current deputy SOS Christi Jacobsen had resulted in duplicated financial charges for a number of businesses.

One final note: While Montana’s Senate race has attracted a barrage of national media attention over the past few months, an Oct. 21 story by New Yorker writer E. Tammy Kim took a different tack, examining not the race itself, but two distinct voter blocs that may well decide the outcome.

*Some stories may require a subscription

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...