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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

'Campaign Beat': Bullock's Email, Gov. Race, And Trump's Impact

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

The release of the Gov. Bullock's personal emails; Greg Gianforte's campaign donations to himself; Trump's impact on downticket races; the possible spoiler role of Libertarian candidate Ted Dunlap; and Montanans feeling the Bern, on this episode of "Campaign Beat."

Bullock's emails

At the request of several news organizations, the governor's office has released three years' worth of personal emails that show the disintegration of his working relationship with former Lt. Governor Angela McLean.

"The interest in these emails stems from questions about what actually transpired between the two of them, and the emails that we saw today suggest that initially the relationship was quite warm - chatty, it's described as at one point - but then there was a real falling out that ultimately led to McLean being taken off some of her areas of policy interest, and eventually resigning. There have long been watercooler whispers that there is much more to this story than what we've heard, and a lot of people were thinking that these emails might shed light on what really happened," Rob Saldin says.

"I think the emails don't really tell us anything new. If there is anything more to this story, it's not contained in these emails."

"And unless Governor Bullock or Angela McLean say more, we're not likely to learn more," says Sally Mauk.

Gubernatorial race fundraising

The latest campaign finance reports show both Gov. Bullock and Greg Gianforte are raising lots of money, but a big chunk of Gianforte's treasure chest comes from his own bank account.

"For the first time, Gianforte has put direct money into his campaign, to the tune of $200,000," Chuck Johnson says, "It's probably the first of a number of donations, but we don't know. Altogether, Gianforte has raised about $1.2 million, counting the $200,000, while Bullock's raised about $1.7 million. But the question is, how much more money will Gianforte put in, and will it become a campaign issue."

Presidential election

Gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte said this week he'll support whoever is the Republican nominee for president.

"I will support whoever gets the nomination at the end," Gianforte said, "that's really not my decision ... who gets the presidential nomination. I've been watching with interest as well as, I think, many Montanans have. It may not have gone the way everybody wanted, but here we are, and we're each going to have to make a decision come November."

Many Republicans are worried that Trump is going to hurt the down-ballot candidates for congress and for governor.

"Some people are saying that the GOP-controlled congress is now in serious jeopardy with Donald Trump being the presumptive nominee, being the real face of the party. There's concern that that will stimulate people to come out and vote against Donald Trump, that it'll taint everyone on down the ticket," according to Rob Saldin.

"I think this has to be something of a frustration for the Gianforte camp. They feel that they're in a good position to win this thing ... This governor's race, in a straight up head-to-head Gianforte vs. Bullock matchup, they've got a pretty good shot. But now you have this real wild card in Donald Trump who is just prone to saying erratic and unpredictable things, and we're already seeing now every Republican across the country is having to respond to the question: do you support the presidential nominee? And every time this summer and this fall when Donald Trump says something off kilter, Gianforte and all the rest of the Republican candidates are going to be asked about it ... and that is not what Greg Gianforte wants to be talking about during this campaign."

"And they're damned if they do, and damned if they don't," says Sally Mauk. "Because if they say 'I'm appalled by Donald Trump', then they're going to offend, possibly, his supporters who may traditionally vote Republican."

Libertarian candidate for Governor

If the Bullock-Gianforte race is close, Libertarian candidate Ted Dunlap could play a role as a spoiler.

"We should be proving or disproving the absence or presence of chemical spraying from in our atmosphere. If it's true, this is the most serious issue facing all of Montana," Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Ted Dunlap said in an interview this week.

"Dunlap is the only candidate raising this issue," Mauk notes, "but that's often what third party candidates do."

"Libertarians often raise issues that aren't really on the front burner," says Chuck Johnson. "In Montana, we've got a long tradition of Libertarians running for office. They contribute in their own way, and they get usually from 2 - 4 percent, and in a close race, they could make a difference. It's widely thought that they help the Democratic candidates, although I'm not sure that's always the case, but I think it often is the case.

"Montanans are libertarian — lower-case libertarian — in a lot of respects. We want to be left alone, we don't want the government in our lives; at least that's the rhetoric."

Montanans feeling the Bern

Bernie Sanders supporters are rallying in Butte this weekend. One of the organizers is Montana resident and actress Margot Kidder, who says the presidential election is not over.

"That's the mainstream media, it's nonsense," Kidder says. "Bernie has pledged to fight for the last vote."

Sally Mauk: "Lots of Sanders supporters are blaming the mainstream media for Bernie's struggle to win the Democratic nomination for president."

"I've seen a lot of articles and letters to the editor in which Sanders supporters make that very point," Johnson says. "Of course the networks and the AP and the national newspapers, and NPR are all calculating potential delegates each candidate has racked up through the primaries, and it looks like a long shot for Bernie Sanders, but [the campaign] feels like it's still a ballgame or a horse race ... I haven't seen any polling on what the results look like in Montana, but it would not surprise me to see him do well in Montana in the primary next month."

Sanders has "tacitly acknowledged that he's probably not going to be the nominee," notes Saldin. "Even Bernie Sanders has alluded to this, but he says he wants to keep going so he can get as many delegates as possible for the convention, and that isn't a meaningless endeavor, even if it's not possible for him to be the nominee at this point because he wants to have some influence over the party platform and the shape of the party going forward ... But we shouldn't deceive ourselves into thinking that the Democratic nomination is still up for grabs."

"Campaign Beat" is hosted by MTPR's Sally Mauk, with UM Political Science Professor Rob Saldin, and former Capitol Reporter Chuck Johnson. Listen every Friday at 6:48 p.m. and again on Sunday at 11:00 a.m., or via podcast.

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