From ABC News:
As Republican leaders fearful of losing the majority in the U.S. Senate parade through Montana to rally behind embattled incumbent Steve Daines, one has been conspicuously absent: President Donald Trump.
The president visited Montana repeatedly in 2018 and hosted huge rallies in a failed bid to oust the state’s senior senator, Democrat Jon Tester. The 2020 election was lining up to be a potential replay when Trump in June suggested he would return to Montana and “be there to help Steve win big” over his challenger, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
But that went by the wayside with Trump playing defense against Democrat Joe Biden in several battleground states and after a coronavirus infection temporarily sidelined the president during the homestretch of the campaign.
It left Daines, whose campaign has leaned on his ties to Trump, to settle for an 8-1/2 minute “tele-rally” with the president in October — essentially a conference call for supporters and reporters in which no questions were taken.
Daines has closely aligned himself with Trump, who appears to be far less popular than he was in 2016, with polls showing his lead over Joe Biden in single digits.
David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University, said that while “Donald Trump certainly doesn’t act like a lot of Montanans,” the decline reflects broader concerns about the president’s policies and leadership.
“It’s the fact that his administration in many ways has put the state in jeopardy, through the pandemic, trade wars and the economy,” he said.
The Senate race will come down to people wanting to vote “for someone they know,” he said. “It’s really going to come down to whether independent voters go overwhelmingly for Bullock.”
Daines and Bullock have been a study in contrasts on the campaign trail.
The genial senator has refrained from holding public town halls, instead opting for scripted events with select audiences. The outgoing governor speaks at boisterous, socially distanced rallies.
Money has poured in for both candidates from across the country, with total spending on the race now exceeding $160 million — more than $200 for each registered voter.
Montana State University polling, which was conducted by mail, found 52 percent of voters approve of Daines’ job performance, virtually unchanged from polling conducted with the Montana Television Network around the same time in 2018, while 41 percent disapprove, up 10 points from two years ago. Three in 5 Montanans approve of the governor’s job performance, up 6 points from 2018, while the share who disapprove, 37 percent, has risen just 2 points during that time.
Notably, Bullock’s standing has improved among independents and Democrats since 2018 — but it’s weakened among Republican voters, a sign that GOP efforts to chip away at the sizable coalition of Big Sky voters who backed both Trump and their Democratic governor four years ago has borne fruit, likely a necessity for a Daines victory.
On average, 5 percent of the electorate is still undecided, including 7 percent of voters unaffiliated with a political party.
“There is a big swath of independents we need to be talking to and persuading until the last minute,” said Olivia Bercow, the Bullock campaign’s communications director. “It’s now about getting out your people and who did a better job convincing people in the center that they’ll be the better senator, and we argue that is Steve Bullock.”
David Parker, Montana State University’s political science department director who conducted the survey, said the state’s voters who eschew both major parties make up a large and meaningful share of Montana’s electorate, and that while they’re not happy with the direction the country is headed in, they feel better about how things are going under Bullock’s leadership. Parker, who authored a book on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s 2012 re-election campaign, said the 2020 contest is going to come down to which voters end up casting ballots — alluding to the election cliché that “it all comes down to turnout.”
In Montana, a state awash in campaign advertising and negative political attacks, Republicans have sought to portray Mr. Bullock, whose job performance ratings have remained strong as he has managed the state response to the pandemic, as a politician who turned to the left during a failed presidential primary run.“Steve Bullock is too liberal for Montana,” Mr. Daines said in a brief interview.
But Mr. Bullock proved in 2016 that he could draw the support of conservatives, narrowly winning re-election even as Mr. Trump easily carried the state. As a result, Republicans are trying to persuade voters that sending him to Washington would be more dangerous than putting him in charge of their state.
“They might like him as governor, but ultimately he is playing for the wrong team and would green-light Democrats’ extreme agenda in the Senate,” said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for Republicans’ Senate campaign organization.
Mr. Bullock scoffs at the characterizations. His campaign advisers believe that a final campaign push focused on digital advertising targeted at the few remaining undecided voters and an intense outreach operation can bring a victory in a contest that both sides believe will be settled by a few thousand votes at most.
“The same person that Montanans elected twice governor and is now running for the Senate is going to be the same person when I show up in D.C.,” he said. “I’m not going to drink the water.”
Daines, a staunch Trump ally, has spent the second half of his Senate term bolstering his environmental record. He had taken to the airwaves with ads featuring sweeping vistas of Montana’s mountains and valleys to tout himself as a “conservative conservationist.”His biggest legislative triumph was persuading Trump to sign the Great American Outdoors Act, one of the most important environmental laws passed in decades.But Bullock is hoping to counter Daines with his own public lands victory in the courts.
In September, a federal judge ruled that William Perry Pendley, Trump’s pick to run the Bureau of Land Management, was holding his position illegally since he was never confirmed by the Senate.Now Bullock is bashing Daines for initially supporting Pendley, an ultraconservative activist who once called for the federal government to sell off its land to private interests. Pendley’s assignment to lead the agency provoked an outcry among environmentalists that was loud even for the Trump era.“Montanans know that Steve Daines supported somebody to run our public land agency that said that the Founding Fathers never intended to hold public lands,” Bullock said in a recent interview.Brian Morris, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Montana, found that Pendley had been effectively acting director of the agency for well over the one year allowed under the federal law.
The Lower Costs, More Cures Act is a watered-down version of the bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill. It has drawn zero Democratic sponsors and is preferred by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA, for short), the powerful pharmaceutical trade group that lobbies Washington on behalf of drug companies. PhRMA spent over $29 million on lobbying in 2019, making it the fourth-highest spending lobby in the country.
Despite joining the Lower Costs, More Cures Act as a co-sponsor in July 2020, months after its introduction in December 2019, Daines has avoided talking about the bill, never issuing a press release about his support or mentioning it on his campaign website. Aside from Daines, none of the Republicans who supported the Grassley-Wyden bill sponsored the legislation.
Before endorsing the Lower Costs, More Cures Act, Daines, and his affiliated PACs received large donations from big pharmaceutical companies, a majority of which came before his sponsorship of the bill. He and his PACs accepted close to $120,000 this election cycle from pharmaceutical manufacturers, including $10,000 each from PACs associated with Genentech Inc., Merck and Co., and Pfizer Inc. PhRMA itself gave him $6,000, the sixth-largest donation by the group to a Senate Republican. The industry has climbed into Daines’ top 15 industry contributors this year, launching ahead of more typical players in Montana, such as the mining industry, the livestock industry, and the crop production and processing industry. Daines ranks eighth among sitting Senators in pharmaceutical contributions and fifth among Republicans.
As candidates in the U.S. Senate race articulate their closing arguments, one of the main issues they're clashing over is health care, specifically protections for people with pre-existing conditions.Both candidates, Republican incumbent Sen. Steve Daines and Democratic challenger Gov. Steve Bullock, vow they'll preserve those protections. But Bullock points out votes Daines has taken to repeal the Affordable Care Act as evidence he says show the senator's actions speak louder than words. The ACA is where those protections are codified. Daines responded in a television ad that Bullock is misrepresenting his votes to “fix the Obamacare mess to lie to you about pre-existing conditions.”Bullock also cites Daines' support of a lawsuit the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the week after the election that could strike down the law.“The absurdity (that) Daines' line now is that 'Oh, well this won't overturn the ACA;' the whole purpose of this lawsuit is to overturn it,” Bullock said in an interview recently. “(This is) a guy who's literally now voted five times to get rid of the ACA.”
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