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High stakes in US Senate drive astronomical spending in Montana

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BILLING, Mont. – Political groups fighting for control of the US Senate have invested more than $ 118 million in the contest between Democratic Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Republican incumbent President Steve Daines, a record low for the low-density state of population that eclipses spending for one – electoral base in all other Senate battlefield states.

The deluge of cash comes as Republicans increasingly fear losing control of the chamber, and as Democrats seek to reverse the years-long GOP surge in Montana, with President Donald Trump winning the Status of more than 20 percentage points in 2016.

For the residents of Big Sky Country, that means an endless barrage of advertisements every time they turn on their computers, televisions, and radios or open their mailboxes.

In the end, both campaigns and outside groups that span the political spectrum – from the NRA Victory Fund to Planned Parenthood – are expected to spend a total of $ 184 on advertising for each of the 729,000 registered voters.

That figure does not include $ 6 million for mailings, door-to-door canvassing and other expenses that appear on the files of the Federal Election Commission groups.

The tally far exceeds the estimated $ 100 per voter in Maines’ hotly contested battle for the seat held by Senator Susan Collins, a Republican moderate challenged by Maine House President Sara Gideon.

And Montana’s political ad spend is almost 10 times the per voter spent on ads in the Colorado Senate contest between former Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper and incumbent Republican Senator Cory Gardner.

The two Montana candidates are popular and familiar to state voters. Bullock, 54, from the capital, Helena, has just completed a second term as governor after two terms as Montana’s attorney general.

Daines, 58, grew up in Bozeman and was an executive in a high-tech company. He served a term in Congress and won a Senate race in 2014.

Usually, incumbents have the natural advantage. In that race, there are essentially two incumbents, said AshLee Strong, who served as a senior advisor and spokesperson for former House Speaker Paul Ryan and now runs a Montana PR firm.

One of the reasons for the high ad spending is the sprawling size of Montanas, where only 1 million residents are spread across a state larger than Germany, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. from Pennsylvania. The media market is divided into different regions linked to cities such as Billings, Great Falls, Missoula and Helena.

But the main driver is the competitive nature of the race and the high stakes in the Senate. Republicans hold a slim 53-45 majority in the chamber and two independent caucuses with Democrats, which means they only need a few seats to gain control. They hope for victories in other states including Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and Iowa.

Races in Iowa and North Carolina are expected to have the most ad spend of at least $ 167 million each, according to Kantar / CMAG.

Democrats had the Montana Senate seat for more than a century before Daines, who won it after former Bullocks Lieutenant Governor John Walsh was forced to retire at the end of the race of 2014 amid allegations he plagiarized parts of a memoir while in the U.S. military. War College in 2007.

Democrats have passed Republicans in advertising by about $ 11 million, a gap that is expected to widen in recent weeks, according to Kantar / CMAG data.

Daines’ campaign has responded by making increasingly urgent appeals to potential donors and warning that support from voters for Bullock in the polls is increasing.

Let me tell you where things stand at this race is tied, Daines said Wednesday during a conference call with President Donald Trump and others that the Daines campaign touted as a TeleRally.

Daines said his campaign was largely overtaken by Democrats.

You see it on the air. We have to fight back, Daines said.

During the debates with Daines, he insulted the large donations the Republican received from political action committees backed by the oil industry, drug companies and other corporate interests.

I don’t think Senator Daines has ever encountered a corporate PAC that he doesn’t like, ”Bullock said in a recent televised debate.

Daines describes Bullock as a hypocrite, pointing out that the Democrat benefited from outside spending and helped funnel money into races across the country when he chaired the Democratic Governors Association.

Candidate campaigns represent less than half of ad spend to date. The rest comes from more than two dozen groups, with the Republican-affiliated Senate Leadership Fund and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee as the two biggest spenders.

Jamieson, of the Annenberg Center, whose grandmother resided in Montana, noted that political ads have a long history in the state.

A celebrity from Democrat John Melcher’s successful 1982 Senate campaign featured talking cows insulting State City slickers “spending against him in the race.

Jamieson would like to believe that the rural state could be spared the sheer volume of intrusive interest group advertisements that have become a staple of modern politics, but acknowledged that was not the case.

We have now standardized so much outside the state money entering states that it is no longer a problem and it is happening on both sides, ”she said.

Hanson reported from Helena.

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