Montana gubernatorial candidates Steve Bullock and Rick Hill exchanged two salvos in quick succession early this week, breathing life into what has so far been a fairly quiet race.
Hill, the Republican, kicked off Monday with a press conference where he rolled out plans to revamp Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to more aggressively manage the state's wolf population. Bullock's campaign was quick to respond, claiming that the race has "only one candidate who is a hunter and fisherman," and that's Bullock. Bullock, the Democratic in the race and Montana's current attorney general, also said he's actively protected access rights to public land in court.
Hill's statements regarding state management of wolves steered the gubernatorial race straight into the quagmire of hot-button wedge issues in Montana. He's made no secret of his stance. His campaign website stokes familiar fears of impacts to stockgrowers and sportsmen, questions the state's official wolf numbers and claims "our current control methods are not adequate." Bullock's website is comparatively mum on the subject.
Within 24 hours of Hill's comments, Bullock managed to redirect the race toward another wedge issue. He publicly criticized his opponent's stern anti-abortion views, in light of the embarrassing weekend gaffe by Missouri Rep. Todd Akin about rape.
"Congressman Hill believes that we should criminalize the termination of a pregnancy, even for a woman who was raped or the victim of incest," says Bullock spokesman Kevin O'Brien. "While that's a position in line with Congressman Akin, it's out of step with mainstream Montanans."
Hill both defended his position on abortion and decried Akin's statements. He also claimed Bullock had mismanaged the state's sex offender database. Meanwhile, NARAL Pro-Choice Montana released a statement Tuesday condemning Hill's "extreme stance on reproductive rights" and pointing to his work as a U.S. representative in the late 1990s to pass legislation to give personhood status to a fetus. "The Hill ticket is too dangerous for Montana women's health and too extreme to represent this state," said Julianna Crowley, the organization's executive director.