Sen. Jon Tester hit the campaign trail in Missoula again last weekend, touring the nonprofit reuse center Home ReSource and chatting up Democratic supporters at a dinner honoring Pat and Carol Williams. But even as the Senator shook hands with locals, his face was appearing on TV across Montana in the latest round of negative political ads to sweep the state.
Outside groups on either side of the aisle have spent an estimated $3 million in Montana's Senate race so far this cycle. The Super PAC Patriot Majority USA dropped nearly $200,000 on a recent ad campaign taking Republican challenger Rep. Denny Rehberg to task. The biggest hitter of them all, however, is Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, the Karl Rove-backed organization that's spent almost $2 million attacking Tester.
The group's latest ad aired late last month. Crossroads' message is similar to the tack the Rehberg campaign has taken against the incumbent. Both have gone to great lengths to paint Tester as a Senator who has voted in lockstep with President Barack Obama.
In a release following the ad's debut, Crossroads claimed the spot was intended to "alert Montanans to the anti-job policies Jon Tester supports in Washington when he should be pushing for real economic solutions to create jobs in Montana." But Crossroads' interest in Montana's Senate race goes well beyond a voter "alert." It spent $1.2 million on television ads nationwide in April blasting Democratic Senatorial candidates in five states.
The goal is to flip control in the Senate to the GOP. All five of Crossroads' target states are considered tossups in 2012 save North Dakota, which is projected to lean Republican. However, Rove and others with Crossroads have so far successfully made a case to the Federal Election Commission that their ads constitute "issue advocacy." Crossroads GPS filed tax forms this week requesting the IRS treat it as a 501(c)(4)a tax status that would free the organization from having to disclose donor information.
Last fall, Montana cable provider Optimum dropped an anti-Tester Crossroads ad when it found the ad's accusation against the Senator was false. Crossroads said it purchased the two-week statewide spot for $157,000.