McCain Joins Rehberg to Appeal to Veterans in Great Falls

By Beacon Staff

GREAT FALLS — U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg brought U.S. Sen. John McCain to a key military town in the state Friday as he woos the veterans that are a perceived strength for his opponent, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

Tester has spent a great deal of his first term distinguishing himself as an advocate for veterans — but Rehberg also has roots with the constituency. Rehberg’s forum on veterans’ issues followed one he held last month, also in Great Falls, warning that the local economy would suffer under scheduled defense cuts.

Tester’s campaign jabbed back by taking out a full-page ad in the Great Falls Tribune that attempted to drive a wedge between Rehberg and his party’s 2008 presidential candidate. It thanked McCain for opposing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United campaign finance decision, which Rehberg supported and Tester wants to overturn.

Rehberg criticized Tester for the ad, and McCain told reporters that he fully supports Rehberg in the election even though the two Republicans may split on the issue. He was scheduled to hold a fundraiser later for Rehberg.

“We need a fiscal conservative, not someone who talks the talk, but someone who walks the walk,” McCain said.

Rehberg and Tester are engaged in a heated battle for a Senate seat. Both are receiving millions in outside support with control of the U.S. Senate at stake.

“There is no doubt in my mind it will be a real close election. Whether or not Republicans take control of the Senate to a large degree depends on this race,” McCain said

Rehberg and McCain blamed the Obama administration for pending defense cuts that came out of bipartisan deficit reduction talks.

Tester was in Billings a day earlier at his own veterans’ event, unveiling a database of the 6,000 Montana recipients of the Purple Heart. The Tester campaign points out that the freshman senator has been able to deliver for veterans, such as with tax credits for companies hiring them and by improving access to health clinics.

As each side sought out this important constituency — Montana has one of the highest service rates in the nation — they also have been trying to embarrass each other for ties to party elders.

Besides his ad pointing out Rehberg’s split with McCain on a campaign finance issue important to Tester, the Democrat’s allies have recently been arguing that GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget was so extreme that even Rehberg voted against it.

Rehberg immediately shot back, saying he fully supports the GOP presidential ticket topped by Mitt Romney, despite some small policy differences — and challenged Tester to say he supports President Barack Obama. A staple of the Rehberg campaign has been to bash Obama administration policies and to criticize Tester for supporting many of them.

Tester has pointed out his independence on key issues such as allowing wolf hunts and the oil pipeline that would run south from Canada through the state. His campaign offered a careful and measured endorsement of the president — and attempted to point out possible weaknesses from Romney’s background.

“Jon’s only agenda is Montana’s agenda, which is why he stands up to any president or candidate — whether it’s Obama on the Keystone Pipeline or Gov. Romney’s record of supporting gun control,” spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff said in a statement.

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