U.S. Senate contest is now the most expensive campaign in Montana history

Already well north of $75 million
Posted at 3:29 PM, Oct 06, 2020

With four weeks until Election Day, Montana’s U.S. Senate race has likely broken the record for spending on a single campaign in Montana, well north of $75 million.

The Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political ads on TV, also says the race between U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, has had more TV ads aired since Labor Day weekend than any Senate contest in the nation.

Bullock, a two-term governor who can’t run for re-election, is trying to oust Daines, a former software-company executive and first-term U.S. senator.

Montana is one of a half-dozen Senate races across the country to attract scads of money, as Democrats attempt to wrest control of the U.S. Senate from Republicans, who’ve had the majority since 2015.

David Parker, chair of the political science department at Montana State University, told MTN News Tuesday the huge amount of spending indicates that the race is close.

“If they’re looking at people who are undecided, those people are expensive to reach, because they’re not as engaged,” he said. “The other thing they’re trying to do is just drive turnout massively.”

The old record for a single Montana race was set in 2018, between U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Republican challenger Matt Rosendale, at between $75 million and $80 million.

According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, outside groups had spent about $55 million on the contest through last weekend -- $29.4 million by those supporting Bullock and $25.5 million by those supporting Daines.

The campaigns of the two candidates likely have spent anywhere from $20 million to $30 million so far, and other outside groups that don’t yet report their spending – “dark money” groups – have probably pitched in at least another $5 million.

More than two dozen groups have reported making independent expenditures on the race. This money is “independent” in that it’s spent without the knowledge of or coordination with a candidate, but the spending targets a specific candidate, both for and against.

Most of this money also is spent against, rather than for, a candidate. The biggest spenders include:

· The Senate Leadership Fund, almost $11 million against Bullock.

· The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, $10.8 million against Daines.

· Senate Majority PAC, $9.5 million against Daines.

· National Republican Senatorial Committee, $8 million against Bullock.

· LCV Victory Fund, $3.2 million against Daines and for Bullock.

· Americans for Prosperity Action, $2.8 million for Daines and against Bullock.

The biggest amounts of money are spent on TV ads. But these groups also pay for radio ads, digital ads, mailers, text messages and door-to-door canvassing, on behalf of their favored candidate.

The campaigns of Daines and Bullock had spent a combined $9.5 million through the end of June, but had almost $15 million remaining in their accounts – and have certainly raised and spent millions more since that last reporting deadline.

The next reports are due Oct. 15. It’s probably safe to assume that the campaigns have spent anywhere from $10 million to $20 million in the past three months.

The Wesleyan Media Project said campaign TV ads in the Montana race had about 44,300 airings, between Sept. 5 and Sept. 27 – more than any other race nationwide.

Yet Montana’s media markets still remain relatively inexpensive, compared to some states, so five other Senate races had more spending on TV ads, than Montana, during that period: North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan and Arizona.

The project said $14.5 million had been spent on TV ads in Montana during the period. North Carolina was the highest at $31.4 million.

Parker said he’s expecting a turnout in Montana of more than 80 percent, but that it’s hard to say whether that will advantage Democrats or Republicans. However, that benefit could stretch up and down the ticket, to other candidates of the favored party, he said.