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In the final week of the election, Montana’s Senate showdown between incumbent Republican Steve Daines and Democratic challenger Steve Bullock has commanded national attention. PBS NewsHour framed it as the most expensive political race in state history, and the Los Angeles Times posited that control of the U.S. Senate could boil down to which of the two candidates is viewed as more authentically Montanan. Bullock used the final days of the high-stakes contest for a string of campaign stops including a drive-in rally in Hamilton, an education-centric stump in Missoula and a critique of Daines’ record in Bozeman. Bullock also tested negative for COVID-19 last week after a governor’s office staffer tested positive.
Daines kicked off the final campaign stretch by airing his concerns about potential increased Democratic control in Washington, D.C. He continued to get a lift from other prominent Republicans, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio lauding Daines at a rally in Great Falls and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz singing his praises from a lectern in Hamilton. The latter event drew criticism from local health officials after numerous attendees declined to wear face masks. Daines returned to Bozeman Friday morning for a rally on his home turf, urging the crowd to vote before setting off for his last few days of on-the-road campaigning.
A late-week poll from MSU-Billings showed a still-close race for U.S. House between Democrat Kathleen Williams and Republican Matt Rosendale, with Rosendale up by a single point. Williams used the closing days of the election to campaign alongside Bullock in Bozeman and to further lay out her legislative agenda with state media. Rosendale, meanwhile, was slated to appear at a Saturday campaign event in Kalispell featuring Donald Trump Jr.
Campaign cash became an even greater attack-point in the gubernatorial race last week, prompting a close examination of fundraising and spending by MTN News’ Mike Dennison. Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Mike Cooney both appeared on Montana This Morning to share their views about how to move the state forward, and Cooney submitted to yet another COVID-19 test in response to the positive case at the governor’s office, yielding yet another negative result. The biggest headlines in that contest, however, were generated by a development hundreds of miles away — one involving a personalized video app, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and a request Christie characterized as “misleading.”
Elsewhere in statewide races, Democrat Bryce Bennett and Republican Christi Jacobsen continued to lob pointed accusations at one another. The Great Falls Tribune also published Election Day lead-up stories on the divisive contests for state auditor and superintendent of public instruction, while KRTV offered a last snapshot of the race for state attorney general. And Yellowstone Public Radio’s Kayla Desroches gave voters a glimpse of how the results in Public Service Commission races could impact Montana’s energy future.
One final “final note”: Nationwide, more than 94 million people have already cast their votes.As of last Wednesday, election officials in western Montana’s four largest counties had received 64% of the ballots they’d sent out. But plenty more votes remain to be delivered, and all of them remain to be counted, so stay tuned to Montana Free Press tomorrow as the 2020 election begins to unfold.
As COVID-19 continues to sweep through Montana, public health workers are struggling to keep up with the sheer volume of demand for contact tracing, which health officials say is one of the most basic tools they have for tracking and combating pandemics.
Committee leadership roles for the 2021 legislative session made public this week indicate that pragmatic Republicans in the Legislature’s “Solutions Caucus” faction will continue to play key roles in shaping state policy as Montana enters a new world of unified Republican control.
Kurt Alme, currently Montana’s top federal prosecutor, will manage the budget for a governor who has promised fiscal restraint.