With Montana's 2012 primary season over, candidates across the ballot are rushing to fortify new positions. But in one race, the partisan trenches have already been dug. The shelling started months ago.
Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg are giving each other no quarter. The Tester campaign hit Rehberg hard last week for his role in defeating a proposed $28 million funding increase for PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury research. Rehberg's camp quickly refuted the allegation, claiming Rehberg had supported the appropriations bill in question. True. But Tester, whose latest campaign ad highlights his personal commitment to injured veterans, caught his Republican challenger on a technicality.
Rehberg did vote against Democratic Georgia Congressman John Barrow's amendment to the bill, which would have redirected unused federal funds from the Defense Base Closure Account to a pot of $582 million already set aside for medical and prosthetic research. Barrow's motion would have shifted another $28 million toward decreasing the deficit. Barrow lost on party lines, with Rep. John Culberson, a Republican from Texas, denouncing the motion as "a very sad ... and shallow and disappointing political stunt."
Rehberg struck back, criticizing Tester for appearing at a high-priced fundraising dinner June 1 at the San Francisco home of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. It was a solid blow. The event, which cost $15,000 per ticket, raised funds for a host of Democratic senate campaigns in the West, including Tester's. However, according to the fine print on the invitation, the end-run beneficiary is none other than the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Tester has blasted outside spending and influence in his race for re-election. So his appearance in San Francisco seems like a significant backslide. Politico reported earlier last month that the DSCC had purchased $3 million in broadcast ad time in Montana for the 2012 senate race. Considering the organization's habit of referring to Rehberg as a "Washington politician" prone to siding with Wall Street executives, it isn't hard to speculate where their support will go.
The curtain has lifted on the general election. The first Tester-Rehberg debate is less than three weeks away. Ads are already running wild on television and radio. There's no way we can stay ahead of it all, but as the bombardments increase in frequency, we won't let hypocrisy and rhetoric go completely unchecked.