The president landed in Montana last week for the third time since taking office, again making good on his promise to target Democratic Sen. Jon Tester for opposing Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Like many of today’s debates, the rift between Trump and Tester is more nuanced than the sound bites on the airwaves. Yes, Tester did oppose the nominee who had served as White House physician under three presidents. Also yes, Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee raised concerns about Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson almost as soon as his nomination was announced. After allegations against him were made public, including alleged “abusive” behavior toward staff and improperly handling pain medication, Jackson withdrew his name from consideration.
The details of that argument, however, are bound to get lost in a U.S. Senate campaign on pace to be the most expensive in the state’s history. Our televisions are so saturated and mailboxes so stuffed with campaign literature it’s fair to wonder if we’ve become numb to most of them.
The former costliest campaign in Montana also involved Tester, when longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg challenged him in 2012. About $47 million was spent on that race and the incumbent senator narrowly won 49-45. The margin of victory was far less than the votes garnered by Libertarian candidate Dan Cox.
After that election, I told myself no campaign could possibly be bigger. But, in hindsight, I was suffering amnesia. Just four years prior, in 2008, the bitter slog to determine who would be the Democratic nominee for president reached Montana, which was one of the last states to vote in that primary. While Barack Obama had inched ahead in delegates, Hillary Clinton refused to concede and the country turned its attention our way.
Bill Clinton stumped out of the back of a pickup at Flathead Valley Community College. Michelle Obama spoke to a crowd at the KM Building in downtown Kalispell. Obama held a rally in Missoula. Hilary Clinton visited Butte. At the time, the Beacon was barely a year old with a tiny staff publishing tiny newspapers. It didn’t matter. Both candidates agreed to interviews with our former senior writer Dan Testa.
It was a whirlwind campaign that saw Obama handily win with 57 percent of the vote on his way to securing the nomination and the presidency. It was also just the beginning of what has been a wild decade of politics and politicking in the Treasure State, which continues to find itself hosting high-profile contests and high-profile names.
Enter Trump. His visit to Missoula last week ties him for the most by a sitting president. He previously held rallies in Great Falls and Billings. Vice President Mike Pence has also stumped for Republican U.S. Senate nominee and State Auditor Matt Rosendale. Donald Trump Jr., is planning on returning with his girlfriend, former Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle, this week.
Visits by the president and his surrogates, including Whitefish native and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, are so frequent that I assume this is what it feels like living in Iowa or New Hampshire before a presidential election year. The money, rallies and advertisements are so numerous as to be monotonous.
Trust me, a Montana election will never be bigger than this one. Right?