Last week, Missoula City Councilman and U.S. Congressional candidate Dave Strohmaier rolled out a new campaign ad that stopped us in our tracks.
The ad features Strohmaier in his usual wide-brimmed hat presiding over the staged wedding of two women at Caras Park.
"How dare the government tell us who can and cannot marry?" Strohmaier asks. "In Congress ... I'll support marriage equality."
"Wow," we thought. "That's far out." We've seen political operatives paint male politicians as effeminate in an effort to discredit them. In 2010, blogger Montana Cowgirl posted a picture of Democratic legislative candidate Kendall Van Dyk looking butch holding a freshly harvested buck. The caption read "Man." Next to Van Dyk, Cowgirl posted a picture of Republican legislative candidate Roy Brown carrying a handbag. Under Brown's photo, the caption read "Man-purse."
That kind of stuff isn't uncommon in Montana. But we've never seen a politician air an ad that portrays gays in a sympathetic light in an effort to gain favor in a statewide election.
Strohmaier is one of seven Democrats, three Republicans and one Libertarian campaigning to fill U.S. Congressman Denny Rehberg's soon-to-be-vacated seat. His stunt seemed all the more radical considering that some observers think Strohmaier is already too far left to prevail in a statewide race. We would have thought he'd be toning it down.
When we caught up with Strohmaier this week, he said that the ad grew from his frustration with middle-of-the-road rhetoric from overly cautious politicians.
"What many folks are looking for is authenticity in a candidate," Strohmaier says. "I'm no Republican lite."
We admire that but we wonder: Is it effective?
Strohmaier's fundraising has not been as fruitful as some of the other Democratic challengers'. Opensecrets.org reports that as of March 31, Sen. Kim Gillan, of Billings, had raised $242,752; Rep. Franke Wilmer, from Bozeman, $232,461; and Whitefish businesswoman Diane Smith, $137,612. Strohmaier had $100,412. Republican frontrunner Steve Daines raised $890,951.
Between April 26 and May 1, Strohmaier's ad was viewed on YouTube more than 5,500 times and featured in the national gay magazine Out.
But perhaps there's another way to look at this. If you know you're facing long odds anyway, why not fight for the things you believe?
Go get 'em, Dave.