Cash-Strapped Candidates Stretch Funds for Montana Primary

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Some rich candidates are tapping into big bank accounts to buy ads and make appearances across Montana this week.

Then there’s John Driscoll. The former state representative and current Democratic U.S. House candidate figures he can hit about six cities and a few towns in between before the $252 he has left runs out. Once that’s spent, he’ll jump off the campaign trail to do yard work, he said Tuesday.

“If I get asked after that, I can’t go because I’ll be out of dough,” Driscoll said of attending additional campaign events.

Driscoll is one of a number of cash-strapped candidates for federal office who are pinching their pennies before Tuesday’s primary election.

Two Democratic opponents for the U.S. Senate, former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and Wilsall rancher Dirk Adams, have taken to carpooling to campaign events together.

“John and I have been to, like, I want to say, 15 events together,” Adams said. “At some point it occurred to us to match up our schedules to see if there were times we could carpool.”

Bohlinger has about $4,000 left of the $17,396 he’s raised. That’s enough to purchase a lot of gas and hamburgers on the campaign trail, he said.

“I’m going to sprint to the finish line with a lot of travel,” Bohlinger said.

Adams has raised $154,000, plus he loaned his campaign another $306,000.

But both candidates are dwarfed by the more than $1.7 million raised by the third Democratic primary opponent, Sen. John Walsh, who was appointed to seat when Baucus resigned in February.

The Democratic nominee will face the Republican winner of a three-way primary that includes Rep. Steve Daines and his $2 million war chest, along with state Rep. Champ Edmunds of Missoula and University of Montana department assistant Susan Cundiff of Missoula. Edmunds has raised $28,423, while Cundiff has raised $2,440.

Driscoll also faces a well-financed opponent in the primary: former Sen. Max Baucus aide John Lewis, whose campaign had raised more than $754,000 by mid-May.

Driscoll’s money woes are of his choosing. He pledged not to take any campaign contributions for the primary, instead setting aside $5,000 of his own money. A similar strategy helped him win the 2008 Democratic primary for the U.S. House, but he was beaten by incumbent Denny Rehberg in the general election.

Driscoll said he plans to accept contributions for the general election this time if he wins the Democratic nomination.

The Republican U.S. House primary is a crowded five-way race that includes four current or former state legislators. The fifth is Drew Turiano of Helena, who has been shut out of previous Republican debates and disavowed by Montana tea party affiliates after expressing support for departing all immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and concern that white Americans will become a small minority in the coming decades.

Turiano has been invited to participate in a debate Wednesday night in Kalispell.

He had raised a paltry $140, and loaned himself another $6,700 by the end of March, the last filing available.

Turiano said he believes that’s an asset. “Candidates with more money, they’re going to owe a lot of favors to these folks if they beat me,” he said.

His opponents are state Sen. Elsie Arntzen of Billings, state Sen. Matt Rosendale of Glendive, former state Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings and former state Sen. Ryan Zinke of Whitefish.

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