Rehberg Confident Despite Money Gap with Tester

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg’s campaign said Tuesday it has plenty of money despite a growing cash gap in his race against U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

Both sides have been stockpiling campaign donations for a race that has already grown heated. The matchup is expected to be among the most closely watched in the nation as Republicans and Democrats vie for control of the U.S. Senate.

Rehberg, the Republican, raised $656,000 during the last quarter of the year, compared to Tester’s $1.2 million. Rehberg also had a little more than half of the Democrat’s $3.8 million cash on hand.

Rehberg’s campaign says it expected Tester would raise more money, and said it believed voters prefer Rehberg over Tester. Rehberg campaign manager Erik Iverson said “it’s clear that this grassroots campaign will have the resources we need to win.”

The Rehberg campaign pointed out that at this point in Tester’s 2006 come-from-behind win over former Sen. Conrad Burns the Democrat only had $184,000 cash on hand. That snapshot takes place before Tester became the front-runner among Democrats aiming to challenge Burns.

Rehberg, who has been running statewide elections far longer than Tester, is in a far different position than Tester was when he mounted his unlikely challenge to Burns.

Rehberg, looking to leave his House seat for the bigger prize in the Senate, has an established name and election campaign. He is running a campaign critical of the policies of President Barack Obama, aiming to tie them to Tester.

Both sides, buoyed by third-party spending, have so far had plenty of money to run effective campaigns. But each side has also been very critical of where the other is gathering financial support.

The Tester campaign, looking to build his reputation as a populist farmer, said its larger collection of campaign donations show support from across the spectrum.

“Montanans from all walks of life — Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Independents — know Jon’s powerful record of defending our freedoms and making responsible decisions, and they’re excited to elect him to another term in the Senate,” said Tester campaign manager Preston Elliott.

Bozeman businessman Steve Daines, a Republican, continues to lead a large field vying to replace Rehberg in the U.S. House.

Daines, who so far has not had any meaningful opposition for the Republican nomination, reported raising more than $170,000 in the final quarter and holding about $630,000 on hand.

On the Democratic side, political newcomer Diane Smith of Whitefish raised about $100,000 in her first quarter in the race. Many Montana Democrats don’t know Smith, a former corporate executive in Washington, D.C., who moved to Montana in 2002.

Current state legislators Kim Gillan of Billings and Franke Wilmer each reported raising more than $50,000 in the quarter. Gillan led the field with about $100,000 cash on hand.

Missoula city councilman Dave Strohmaier reported raising about $23,000 in the final quarter of the year and holding $15,000 on hand heading into 2012. Helena attorney Rob Stutz reported raising only a few thousand dollars.

Disclosure reports for other Democrats in the race were not available late Tuesday.