HELENA – Perennial candidate Bob Kelleher said Wednesday that he can beat U.S. Sen. Max Baucus this time around — and is willing to spend part of his savings to do it.
Kelleher, 85, won the six-way Republican primary in June, and now faces a Democratic incumbent who has raised nearly $11 million at last count for his re-election.
Kelleher, however, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he is not actively soliciting donations and instead spending his own money on his campaign.
Kelleher said he almost cried when he realized he had won the Republican primary and said he thinks he can win in November.
“Four months ago I would have said no,” Kelleher said. “Today I say, yeah, I think so.”
So far, Kelleher said he’s spent about $20,000 on travel to parades and county fairs, a few billboards and campaign literature. He is also making plans to air a few radio ads in the state’s largest cities.
“Not that much, because I don’t have that much to spend,” Kelleher said.
Baucus, meanwhile, has about 70 campaign staffers, held events around the state and spent money on TV ads.
“Max’s mantra in life is that you take nothing for granted, that’s why he is running the strongest grass-roots campaign Montana has ever seen with nine field offices and boots on the ground across the state,” said spokesman Barrett Kaiser. “He is proud of his record doing what is right for Montana and will continue to be an effective leader for Montana in the United States Senate.”
In comparison, Kelleher has one part-time employee and drives himself to the few campaign stops he can manage.
“I spend a lot of money on gasoline,” Kelleher said.
Kelleher said he sold his office in Butte to help fund his campaign against Baucus, 66, and estimates he is worth about $200,000.
Over the years, the retired army colonel has run for most every office under Democratic and Green party labels, including a failed 1976 presidential run. Kelleher said, along the way, he has sold investment properties to pay for the campaigns.
Political experts give Kelleher little chance against Baucus, who has declined to debate his challenger.
Kelleher’s platform has remained much of the same over the years. He wants to change to a parliamentary form of government. He said the presidency has become a monarchy and far too powerful. He blames many of the country’s ills, such as expensive health care and an “illegal” war in Iraq on a system built around a separation of powers.
He thinks he advanced in the primary because voters are ready for a change to a parliamentary government.
Kelleher, who has been on most major Montana ballots over the decades, doesn’t know if he could do it again four years from now if he loses this time. Instead, his resources and savings will be poured into this race. And he says it will be worth it.
“It is to me, if we can bring democracy and get rid of the monarchy,” Kelleher said.
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