Montana Public Radio

Campaign Beat: Sports, Mail Voting And 'Fawning Adulation'

Aug 28, 2020

The pandemic response remains an issue in Montana's Senate race. Postal service cuts may factor in the governor's race. New ads in the House race feature candidates filleting a fish and changing a tire. The Greens are, once and for all, off the ballot. and "Trumptana" debuts at the Republican National Convention.

Listen now on Campaign Beat with Sally Mauk, Rob Saldin and Holly Michels.

Sally Mauk Rob, the pandemic continues to be a central issue in this election, both at the state and national level, and it's becoming even more of an issue in Montana's U.S. Senate race. Incumbent Steve Daines sent out this video over social media this week:

[Steve Daines]: "Cindy and I are the parents of four. We have such great memories of watching our kids play sports during those years. I can't imagine not being able to watch kids play sports this fall."

"It's time for Gov. Bullock to pull together a plan that involves teachers, coaches, officials, as well as health care experts, so that Montana parents can watch their kids play sports this fall."

Mauk And this is obviously, Rob, an indirect blaming of Gov. Bullock for parents not being able to watch their kids play sports this fall, a problem that Sen. Daines thinks the governor is either responsible for and/or should fix. It seems to be what he's implying.

Rob Saldin Well, yeah, that definitely seems to be the implication Sally. And, you know, look, when it comes to fall sports, I'm somewhat sympathetic. I mean, we've already lost Griz sports and Cat sports, and so I think anyone who's a sports fan, or an athlete, or the parent of an athlete would love to see sports back in a safe manner.

But a few things strike me. I mean, one, to pin this on Gov. Bullock is questionable at best, I would say. Second, for most kids and families, I think sports are probably, you know, at most a secondary concern right now. The big issue for weeks, it seems to me, has been figuring out school, so sports follow somewhere after that top-line concern.

Another thing that I guess I just can't help but note is that Daines' criticism of Bullock here stands in real contrast to his kind of over-the-top, fawning adulation for President Trump's handling of the virus. And that's, you know, not just taken the form of simply asserting that Trump has done a good job in that regard, but it's involved these kind of cringe-inducing expressions of gratitude to the president for how well he's done.

And yet, you know, certainly there's an eager audience for that kind of messaging in some corners of Daines' base so, you know, maybe it works politically, but it's a bit ironic.

It seems to me that Daines here seems to be upset with how the pandemic has been handled, and that it's Bullock who has failed to meet Daines' standards for excellence here.

Mauk Speaking of fawning, Sen. Daines also this week Rob was quoted in the New York Times offering effusive praise of Donald Trump Jr. as a top-notch hunter and fisherman. The Times described the praise as "sycophantic."

Saldin Well, yeah, I believe he said Don Jr. was better than the Green Berets when it came to shooting. Yeah, I mean, all of this - I mean, to me, it's just embarrassing to see someone, in particular a grown-up, demean themselves by sucking up like this.

Although, you know, one thing that caught my eye this week: Tim Alberta - who's a great journalist for Politico and writes a lot about the Republican Party and the conservative movement - you know, he kind of placed some of this in a larger context and said, look, you know, you can take any of these things kind of on their own and they appear ridiculous.

But within the Republican Party, there is this orbit of people who are in something of a competition about who can be the most submissive, who can be the most over-the-top in their adulation for the "dear leader." You know, that's something that is kind of jarring, I think, to my sensibilities - and I think a lot of people's sensibilities - just because it's not something that we've seen a lot here in the United States. But it is something that is not particularly unusual within certain corners of the GOP right now.

Mauk And it's worth noting that Donald Trump Jr. is rumored to possibly want to run for president himself someday, so put that in that political context.

Holly, another issue in this year's election is the Postal Service, and that popped up this week in Montana's governor's race with Democrat Mike Cooney criticizing Republican Greg Gianforte for voting against a House bill that would have provided $25 billion in additional funding for the Postal Service. Cooney made a big deal out of that vote.

Holly Michels Yeah, this is definitely emerging as a campaign issue. We've talked before about changes that have been a little bit reversed in Montana with the post office removal of some collection boxes in communities around the state. Those were ordered to be put back and the decommissioning - which is still ... has happened and hasn't been reversed - of some sorting machines in Montana.

Like you said, Speaker Pelosi called the House back for this weekend vote that would have put that $25 billion in funding toward the post office, and also stopped Postmaster Louis DeJoy from making some of these operational changes that we've talked about until after the election.

'Campaign Beat' is Montana Public Radio's weekly political analysis program.

Gianforte did, like you said, vote against that bill, and Cooney and Democrats in Montana have really been hammering him for it. This bill does sort of fall into the category, a little bit of a messaging-type vote, where it's really easy for one party to vote for it - in this case, the Democrats.

And then you get Republicans on record as being against something, and that leads you to being able to message like Cooney has over the past week. Gianforte's tried to say that the vote was a "partisan dog and pony show," but it's worth pointing out there were 26 Republicans that did vote for it.

Those Republicans departed from Trump and the party here - they're generally in districts that lean Democrat or are swing districts - so a little bit of a different situation than Gianforte's in, but you can't really, truly call it a partisan vote, I think.

Mauk I think it remains to be seen how much of an issue the Postal Service funding will be over the next month or two; probably depends on whether people's mail gets delivered on time and promptly, or if there are long delays, as there have been, apparently.

Michels Yeah, I think it's interesting.

This is for sure a campaign issue: It's being framed around the election and voting by mail. I think it's important to know the Helena Independent Record had a story this week with the local union rep for the post office here, who said that she is fully confident that Montana and Helena could hold the election by mail.

We've seen 70% of ballots cast in the 2018 election were done by mail, so the volume and voting by mail turnout is expected to be pretty darn high this November. But it's not like voting by mail is a new thing, at least for Montana.

But like you said, I think where people are starting to feel this is prescriptions that get delivered in the mail, we've heard about those being delayed, and I think when something that's always worked, works a little bit differently or slower, people could get mad and are getting mad in some places.

So I think that there is the political issue of this, but it does last sort of beyond the election if we see changes to the post office that are slowing the mail down. And that could get people pretty riled up, I think.

Mauk Well, Rob in the House race, both candidates Kathleen Williams and Matt Rosendale have new ads out this week. And in this one, Williams is standing by a lake filleting a fresh-caught fish.

[Kathleen Williams]:"In Montana, you either embrace our way of life or you get out of our way. We respect the land, respect our right to own a gun, and respect the farmers and ranchers - those who've worked the land for generations."

"We honor our veterans - like my dad and late husband - with far more than lip service. And we don't buy the nonsense coming out of Washington. I've spent much of my life protecting what makes Montana special, and I'm not afraid to get my hands a little dirty to get the job done."

"I'm Kathleen Williams and I approve this message."

Mauk And she knows her way around a fish knife, Rob.

Saldin Yeah, you know, this is the second ad we've seen from Williams and what she's attempting, I think pretty effectively: to introduce herself to voters and just drive home the point that she's one of us, that she embodies the Montana way of life.

You know, I do notice that she switched up her rig for this ad. She was using a fly rod in that first spot from a couple weeks ago, I think, but she's on a spinning rod in this ad.

Anyway, you know, cleaning a fish you've just pulled from the water, you know, that's good wholesome Montana stuff.

And driving that point home, just proximity to the voters, that she's one of us: That's really essential for Williams and for Democrats running statewide in this state in general. You know, it's one of those things that's important for all politicians, but I think just Republicans don't have to thread the needle quite so carefully as Democrats in this state.

And so this is the playbook for Democrats running statewide. They've really got to nail it, because if it just comes down to a generic Democrat running against a generic Republican, the Republican is going to win that most of the time.

Mauk Matt Rosendale's new ad shows some Montana workers fixing tires, etc., with a silent video of Nancy Pelosi running in the background. Here's that ad:

[Matt Rosendale]:"Real hard work: It's what makes America. And it's what will bring us back. But in Washington, D.C., this is what they consider hard work. It's all about staying in office."

"I'm Matt Rosendale, and I understand real hard work."

[Narrator]: "As auditor, Rosendale cut operating expenses 23% and refused a pay raise every time."

[Matt Rosendale]: "We need term limits on career politicians, because we have to change Washington to get America back to work. I'm Matt Rosendale, and I approve this message."

Mauk And hard work is a good theme, Rob. It plays well, I think.

Saldin Yeah. You know, what struck me about this is that it opens up talking about "bringing us back," which is an acknowledgment, of course, that we're in tough times. And you know, we haven't always seen and heard a lot of that coming from the Republican Party this week during their convention, but here it is right at the front of Rosendale's ad.

And it also, though, puts the question back to voters, I think, you know, who do you trust to get us back on the right track? You know, hardworking Montanans or Nancy Pelosi.

Obviously Rosendale isn't running against Pelosi, but he wants to tie Kathleen Williams to Pelosi. We're seeing Republicans everywhere across the country running this kind of campaign, including the president. You know, I think it makes sense, particularly for GOP-friendly states like Montana.

So we see these two really distinct portrayals of this race in these two ads, right? For Williams, this is about her as a person, someone who is in touch with us. And you won't find any mention of the National Democratic Party from her. For Rosendale, on the other hand, this is about who do you want in charge back in Washington.

Mauk Holly, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton's appeal effort to keep Green Party candidates on the ballot was, as we predicted last week, rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court this week. And maybe - maybe - that's the end of that particular saga.

Michels Yeah, I think this might be the last time we talk about this for this election cycle, at least.

Mauk Please.

Michels Like you said, Stapleton did this emergency application for a stay. It was denied by Justice Kagan the next day. So it looks like ballots printed in Montana, if they're not already being printed probably pretty darn soon here and without the Green Party on them.

Just a reminder why we've been talking about this - it feels like all fall - is the Green Party could have played a pretty important role, especially if you're looking at the U.S. Senate race in Montana.

Green Party candidates can be seen as drawing votes away from Democrats. The Libertarian Party, which is already on the ballot, can be seen as drawing votes away from Republican candidates.

There was a Green Party candidate in that U.S. Senate race who now won't, like we said, be on the ballot. And there's, as it turns out, not a Libertarian in that race either so it will just be Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and Republican incumbent Steve Daines there.

Same with the House race: Now that will just be Democrat Kathleen Williams, Republican Matt Rosendale. There is a Libertarian candidate in the governor's race, but at those two federal races now, we're just going to see Democrat versus Republican squaring off. And it should be settled for this election.

Mauk Finally Rob, the chairman of the Montana Republican Party Don Kaltschmidt gave the state Republicans' vote for the nomination of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention this week. And here's part of what he said:

[Don Kaltschmidt]:"I come from the great state of Montana. It's often been called the 'Big Sky Country,' the 'Treasure State' and the 'Last Best Place.' But currently, we are affectionately calling it 'Trump-tana.'"

"We fish, we hunt, we boat. And we have at least five guns in every home."

Mauk I checked and I don't have five guns in my home, Rob.

Saldin Yeah, I don't think I do either. These roll call votes are often pretty hokey. I basically found it to be kind of amusing, and more or less in keeping with the traditions of these kinds of things which, you know, tend to devolve into a brief little commercials extolling the virtues of the state in question.

You know, the five-gun thing was obviously a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration, I think, and the Trump-tana bit seemed to have been made in the same spirit, and I thought it worked just fine.

Mauk Holly and Rob, thanks. Quick note for our listeners: Holly is going to be on medical leave for a few weeks, and her colleague Gwen Florio will be subbing for her starting next week. And Holly will return in October.

Campaign Beat is a weekly political analysis program produced by Montana Public Radio. Campaign Beat features University of Montana political science professor and Mansfield Center fellow Rob Saldin, and Lee Newspapers Capitol Reporter Holly Michels and host Sally Mauk.

Coming Soon: Shared State

Montana’s 2020 election will be among the most contentious and closely watched in the country. The neck-and-neck U.S. Senate race could swing control of the “world’s most deliberative body.” The governor’s race, which Republicans haven’t controlled since 2004, is likely to be just as hard-fought, with a two-term Democrat leaving office in a state that voted for Donald Trump by 20 points the last election.

But beneath the headlines, deeper issues are at play. Learn more about them with Shared State, a new series from Montana Free Press, Montana Public Radio and Yellowstone Public Radio about the hidden values driving Montana’s 2020 elections and where the outcomes could lead us.

Listen at our websites or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Tune in on Montana Public Radio Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. starting September 5.