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About a week after the first debate, Gillan opened a new line of attack against Daines and his “more jobs, less government” message. The AP reported that RightNow Technologies secured more than $15 million in government contracts over the last decade. About $13.7 million of that came from the Department of Defense, according to USAspending.gov. That database shows 57 total federal contracts, though more than 170 public agencies reportedly use RightNow’s software.
Gillan says it’s hypocritical to campaign on “less government” while having benefited from those contracts. In the second debate, on Oct. 2 in Billings, Gillan asked, “Why is it okay for government spending if it benefits your bottom line...but not okay for those important and crucial programs for Montana?” Daines’ response is that RightNow’s software has made government more efficient.
She hoped the revelation of Daines’ hypocrisy would be a game-changer, but that hasn’t been the case. Just days after the AP story ran in papers across the state, the Billings Gazette, Gillan’s hometown paper, endorsed Daines.
Gillan has “served her Heights constituents well in the Legislature,” the paper’s editorial board wrote on Oct. 7. “She has [a] strong record of community service and many years of experience working with local businesses. But Daines has the executive business experience America needs to find federal cost savings and new ideas to stimulate the economy.”
It’s an example of how Gillan has appeared to gain momentum in recent months, but not to the point of altering the underlying dynamics of the race.
In mid-September, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official campaign arm of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, added Gillan’s campaign to its “Red to Blue” program. The program targets 53 House seats around the country currently held by Republicans that the committee thinks have a good chance to flip. The DCCC provides those campaigns with guidance and financial backing. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who chairs the committee, said in a statement that Gillan’s campaign has “incredible grassroots energy that has put this race on the map. She is tough, smart and can get things done for her state while protecting Medicare and Social Security, and standing up for women’s health.”
The national attention helps to explain how Gillan’s campaign raised $375,000 in the third quarter, half of what it had raised in the previous quarters combined. But that haul is still less than the $490,000 Daines brought in during the same period. Overall, he’s winning the fundraising race $1.6 million to $750,000.
Like the fundraising figures, Gillan also faces an uphill battle in the most recent polls. On Oct. 5, the Gillan camp released the results of a campaign-commissioned poll conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Mellman Group that gave Daines a 36-34 lead. Gillan called it a statistical dead heat, with 25 percent of those surveyed still undecided. But for every poll that encourages Gillan supporters, there are two that show Daines with a clear advantage. On Oct. 10, Public Policy Polling survey results gave Daines a 43-34 lead, with only 12 percent undecided.
“Steve Daines is a credible candidate with an honorable background, and you’ve got President Obama at the top of the ticket,” says Saldin, the UM political science professor. “That’s such a tough environment this cycle. If this was 2014, it could be a totally different story. [With the] exact same candidates, we’d see a real different situation.”