Tester has his hands full 

Can the farmer from Big Sandy hold off Denny Rehberg and the conservative juggernaut?

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It ain’t me, babe

Last September, an ad began running on Montana television denouncing Tester as the “No. 1 recipient of lobbyist money” among D.C. politicians. The spot, paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, irked the Tester campaign.

The claim about lobbyist donations to Tester is one that Rehberg also makes. Tester, 56, is the top recipient of lobbyist contributions in the Senate this election cycle, it’s true. Rehberg himself ranks seventh among members of the House. But, as PolitiFact pointed out, the attack was misleading. The rankings only consider senators up for reelection. When you account for all senators, Tester tumbles well below high-ranking figures such as Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The biggest point of contention over the NRSC ad, however, was a photo of President Obama and Tester exchanging a cozy handshake. The photo depicted Tester with 10 fingers. Anyone familiar with the senator recognized the problem: Tester only has two on his left hand, a pinkie and a thumb. He lost the other three in a meat grinder accident when he was 9 years old.

Chris Bond, a spokesman for the NRSC, waved off the Tester camp’s concerns, telling the Associated Press it was “understandable” that Tester’s campaign “would want to distract voters with a phony controversy.” Bond would later become Rehberg’s campaign manager.

Two months later, Crossroads GPS pulled an ad from Montana television that claimed Tester voted against a rule banning the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating farm dust—a rule that never actually existed. And those were merely the early days of the race. Third parties have since spent millions trying to portray Tester as an Obama clone, “cherry-picking” his voting record, Tester complains.

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Photo by Alex Sakariassen
  • Congressman Denny Rehberg, center, flanked by Sen. John McCain during a panel discussion on veterans issues in Great Falls Aug. 17.

Despite the power of incumbency, the senator has his hands full. Because the GOP only needs a handful of seats to win a majority in the Senate, a powerhouse has emerged.

Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)(4) corporation backed by conservative strategist Karl Rove, is spending untold dollars targeting Democratic Senate candidates in North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Nevada and Montana. Crossroads is considered a social welfare organization, which means it’s allowed to participate in politics provided that’s not its primary role. Crossroads isn’t required to disclose the cost of its issue-advocacy ads or the identities of its donors.

Crossroads has dubbed its push against Democrats the “New Majority Agenda,” aimed at stopping “out-of-control” government spending. Rove has spent considerable time on Capitol Hill meeting with high-profile Republican politicians and advising them on policy. (The rules governing such interactions, as Politico put it this month, are “in their infancy.”)

According to ProPublica, Crossroads GPS and fellow conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity have now spent an estimated $60 million on television ads in the 2012 presidential race alone—more than every Super PAC in the country combined. On Aug. 23, Crossroads announced yet another anti-Tester ad buy in Montana, valued at $308,000.

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