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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Gov. Race Ads, Big Bucks In House Race, School Superintendent Candidates

Campaign Beat, Montana Public Radio's weekly political analysis program.
"Campaign Beat" MTPR's weekly political analysis program.

Sally Mauk and her guests dissect the first TV ad in Montana’s governor’s race, tally up the big bucks in the U.S. House race, and look at the candidates in the race for superintendent of schools in this episode of "Campaign Beat."

Gianforte's statewide TV ad

Republican Greg Gianforte  aired the first TV ad in the gubernatorial race aired this week.

"I think what we see here is a fairly typical first ad of a campaign, especially for a candidate who insn't particularly well know," says Rob Saldin. "Usually what you see in these early ads is an attempt to do a couple things. First, to portray the candidate as being 'one of us'. We won't get to see that on the radio, but if you see it on TV there are all the iconic Montana images ... there's an effort to humanize the candidate, portray him as someone who we as voters can relate to.

"The second thing I think you see in these initial ads is an attempt to establish a narrative about what this campaign is all about."

Here's the Gianforte ad:


"I'm a job creator and not a politician. That's the core message from Greg Gianforte," says Sally Mauk.

"This is a very familiar theme," Saldin adds. "For those of us closely following it, it starts to feel a bit like old hat here, but we need to remember that for most Montanans, this will be their first introduction to Greg Gianforte. I think one of the things we're seeing in this campaign is a very deliberate and disciplined campaign rollout hammering home on this theme. And this ad is just an example of that."

"I think it's a pretty good introductory ad," Chuck Johnson says. "He gets his message across that he's an outsider, he's not a government bureaucrat, he's a job creator, not a politician. These are really the themes of his campaign."

House race fundraising

The U.S. House race between Republican Ryan Zinke and Democrat Denise Juneau is shaping up to be one of the most expensive in Montana House race history, with both candidates raising record-setting amounts.

"Zinke has raised about $3.6 million to Juneau's $627,000," Johnson notes, "but he's also spending it at a pretty fast clip. He spent about 3/4 of his total so far this election cycle over the two year period ... I think both candidates are raising money in a very skilled way, and it's gonna be one of the higher spending races we've seen in this race ever."

"National pundits and polls have previously predicted Republicans would easily hold on to this seat, but now pollsters like Rasmussen have changed it from 'the seat will stay Republican' to 'likely will stay'. They've notched it up a bit to being more competitive," Mauk says.

One reason this race may be getting more competitive is the uncertainty in the presidential campaign.

"The uncertain prospects on the Republican side could hurt some Republican down-ticket candidates such as Ryan Zinke," Johnson says.

Superintendent of public schools

"The school superintendent race sometimes gets lost in the glare of the higher profile races, but it's a very important post that people should pay attention to," Sally Mauk says.

The race for Montana superintendent of public schools features Democrat Melissa Romano and Republican Elsie Arntzen, both teachers, but that's about the end of their similarities.

"Both of them are experienced teachers; the only real difference in their experience is that Elsie Arntzen has been a Republican legislator for about a decade, and she ran for Congress in 2014, although she finished dead last in the six-way race on the Republican side. But they certainly disagree on the issues," says Chuck Johnson.

"One of the interesting things about this race is that it takes place within a context where Democrats actually have a pretty clear advantage. Montana is a state, in general, that leans Republican. But when it comes to education, national polls routinely and for decades have shown Democrats having a huge advantage in terms of voter perception about who's going to do a better job on education," says Rob Saldin.

"I think one of the reasons for that partially is what we see in those two clips. Rightly or wrongly, Republicans who hedge on that issue [state funding for private schools], raise questions for voters about whether or not they're totally committed to public education. I think that's maybe even a bigger issue in a state like Montana where the vast majority of students are in public schools."

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