Bullock and Daines

Bullock and Daines

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Ads are filling the airwaves this summer as the candidates for U.S. Senate have raised record-breaking amounts of money and outside groups are spending big.

In June, the Cook Political Report changed their assessment of the race from leaning Republican to a tossup, citing polling, views on the governor’s handling of the state’s coronavirus response, and, in part, the massive amount of money Bullock has raised.

In the second quarter of this year, Bullock shattered the previous record for a quarterly haul in campaign contributions, pulling in $7.7 million from April to June.

Daines himself would have also broken the record if not for Bullock’s total, bringing in $4.8 million over the same stretch.

Both of those top the previous quarterly high of $3.7 million that Democratic U.S. Jon Tester raised in the third quarter of his 2018 re-election bid.

Daines still holds an edge over Bullock when it comes to overall money raised over the election, at $12.9 million for the incumbent to Bullock’s nearly $11 million.

But Daines has been raising money much longer than Bullock, who didn’t join the race until the March filing deadline after spending the winter and spring swearing off a run at the seat and riding the wave of a short-lived presidential campaign.

“It’s an astronomical amount of money for a state that’s relatively inexpensive to advertise in,” said Jeremy Johnson, a professor of political science at Carroll College in Helena. “Because the Senate is up for grabs this year between Republicans and Democrats, the Bullock-Daines race has the potential to be very competitive.”

On Wednesday, the Senate Majority PAC, which backs Democrats in an effort to retake the Senate majority, announced a seven-figure television ad buy attacking Daines over his connections and statements about China.

“The Democratic enthusiasm is reflected in all this money,” Johnson said Thursday.

Data from the Center for Responsive Politics collected before that ad announcement listed the Senate Majority PAC as the largest outside spender so far in the race, at $1.57 million. The next closest group is the National Republican Senatorial Committee, at $1.34 million.

So far outside groups have spent more than $1.58 million to oppose Daines and $743,600 in support of him, for a total of $2.33 million spent both helping and against the senator. About $1.48 million has been spent to oppose Bullock and nearly $139,300 to support him, for a total of $1.62 million overall.

“Generally speaking, research has shown that negative advertising is often more effective than positive advertising for candidates. That’s why you see a lot of it,” Johnson said. “It’s not so much about getting new voters for your own candidates, but to drive down support for the other candidates.”

While lower-level state races have been pushed to move campaigns online and on the airwaves as much as possible given the pandemic, Johnson said heavy advertising was expected in the Bullock-Daines contest.

“I think it was always going to be a lot of TV and online. That was always going to happen for a big-money Senate race,” Johnson said.

In a press release earlier in July, Bullock’s campaign touted that 95% of its donations were for less than $200, saying it signified grassroots support. The release also said about 8,650 of the reported contributions came from Montanans that quarter.

The Center for Responsive Politics found that Daines and Bullock were actually fairly similar when it came to how much of their money is from small individual contributions of $200 or less, with 27% of Bullock’s money from those smaller-dollar donors while 22% of Daines’ is.

About 48% of Daines’ money comes from large individual donors, while 66% of Bullock’s does. And about 28% of Daines’ money is coming from Montana while about 12% of Bullock’s is in-state contributions.

“A lot of money is going to come from out of state, especially for the big-dollar donors,” Johnson said. “That’s to be expected.”

{p dir=”ltr”}About 22% of Daines’ money has come from political action committees. Some of Daines’ biggest backers are Club for Growth, at $68,200, the Susan B Anthony List, at $65,280, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, at $44,600.

Bullock’s campaign says it does not take money from corporate PACS, though the Center for Responsive Politics reports about 3% of his money comes from other types of PACS such as those associated with law firms. The largest listed source is Democracy Engine, an online donation platform, at $182,900.

The Green Party candidate, Wendie Fredrickson, has yet to report any spending or fundraising of her own, but has been backed by a PAC to the tune of of about $27,000. The sole funder of that group is a Texas-based organization that normally aligns with conservative issues. The Green Party is on the ballot in Montana this year because of an effort financed by the Montana Republican Party, and the state Green Party has not endorsed any of the candidates running under its name.

There’s not a Libertarian candidate in the race, after Susan Good-Geise, who ran as a Republican to win her seat as a Lewis and Clark County Commissioner first in 2013, withdrew, saying she wanted to focus on the county’s response to COVID-19. The Montana Libertarian Party has until August to name a emplacement.

In terms of cash on hand heading into the summer, Daines reported $7.1 million to Bullock’s $7.5 million.

“Both candidates will clearly have enough money to get their message out,” Johnson said. “They’ll have plenty of money. That seems to be clear.”

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