Tale of the tape
Just how big is the bout between Tester and Rehberg?
Montana's Senate race leads the rest of the country in television ad counts, with a total of 25,211 ads aired between Oct. 1 and Oct. 21. That equals roughly 378,165 minutes of airtime, or the same amount of time it would take to watch all nine seasons of "Seinfeld" twice.
Jon Tester's campaign ranked first by airing 5,485 individual ads between Oct. 1 and Oct. 21, followed by Rehberg with 5,058, the National Republican Senatorial Committee with 4,185 and Crossroads GPS with 3,809.
As of Oct. 30, the Federal Election Commission reported $21.6 million in independent expenditures made by 40 third-party organizations in Montana's Senate race. The expenditures are roughly the same as what Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick made in salary and endorsements over the last year.
Karl Rove's nonprofit Crossroads GPS has spent an estimated $5 million on advertising opposing Tester.
Republicans only need to win four seats in the U.S. Senate in 2012 to gain a party majority. Six seats nationwide are considered "in play" this election, including Montana's.
Under the radar
Smaller races you should be watching, but probably aren't
HD 99: Dudik vs. Marbut
The race to succeed Democrat Betsy Hands is full of intrigue. On one side there's Gary Marbut, a Republican, gun-rights advocate, organic gardener and self-described energy efficiency "guru" who's been endorsed by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. On the other is Democrat Kimberly Dudik, a former assistant state attorney general, registered nurse and mother of two.
While Marbut describes himself as a libertarian and cuts across traditional conservative ideology, he and Dudik have stark philosophical differences that adhere to their respective party platforms. For example, Marbut's against Obamacare and Dudik supports it; Marbut's organization, the Montana Shooting Sports Association, fought alongside American Tradition Partnership in a lawsuit that reversed Montana's century-old ban on corporate campaign spending, while Dudik is critical of recent judicial decisions like Citizens United that loosen campaign spending restrictions.
A Marbut win would surprise (in 2010, Hands took 57 percent of the vote, compared to Republican Brian Barnett's 34 percent), though when a Republican earns the backing of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, all bets are off.
Lake County Justice of the Peace
This race is a movie script in the making. First of all, the position's open because former Lake County Justice of the Peace Chuck Wall abruptly resigned in August amid sexual harassment complaints. That opened the door for an unusually large field of 12 candidates to appear on the ballot.
But the star of the script is former Lake County detective Steve Kendley. Hoping to put an end to allegations of misconduct in the Lake County Sheriff's Office, Kendley ran for sheriff in 2010, but lost to current Sheriff Jay Doyle. Then, in February of this year, Kendley and four other current and former Lake County law enforcement officers filed a federal lawsuit against Doyle, alleging that Doyle and other colleagues retaliated against them for bringing forward evidence of wrongdoing within the department. And then, in August, Doyle fired Kendley because Doyle said he couldn't accommodate a wrist injury Kendley suffered during a SWAT training exercise in late 2009. Kendley subsequently filed a grievance against Doyle, claiming that he violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Kendley told the Indy in August that when he graduated from the law enforcement academy in 2005, "my badge was pretty shiny, and I believed absolutely that if a cop said it, that's the truth." But after working in Lake County, he doesn't think that anymore. "I believe that honest police officers will love me being a judge," he said.
Any Democrat running in Ravalli County
Many Republicans in Ravalli County are, frankly, a little nuts. The all-Republican Ravalli County Board of Commissioners, for example, has been working over the past year to return the heavily forested Bitterroot Valley to a resource extraction-based economy through "coordination," a scheme that basically attempts to usurp federal control of federal lands. Good luck with that.
As elected officials in Ravalli County move further and further to the right, it's interesting to watch Democrats' campaigns. John Ormiston is a Democrat looking to add a modicum of ideological diversity to the board by filling the commission seat being vacated by Matt Kanenwisher. Ormiston's a wildlife biologist campaigning on the "rational" use of natural resources. He's been an NRA member since 1964. We'll see if his gun cred can overcome the "D" next to his name.
Jan Wisniewski, of Hamilton, a candidate for House District 87, also has a "D" next to his name, but he's been accused of being a Republican disguised as a Democrat. To wit, he wants to repeal Obamacare and end subsidies for renewable energy. "I've been called a libertarian," he told the Indy earlier this year. "I've been called a DINO [Democrat In Name Only]...I was called a tea partyer, a right-wing conservative–they've called me everything but a Democrat. That's what I am. I've voted Democrat more times in my life than I have Libertarian."
Only in Ravalli County.
HD 94: Hill vs. Hellegaard
This race features a rarity in a state legislative race: two well-known politicos duking it out. Republican Lyn Hellegaard is best known for her one-term stint on Missoula City Council, where she represented Ward 4. Her vote against the anti-discrimination ordinance inspired Caitlin Copple, a gay-rights activist, to challenge Hellegaard and ultimately oust her by a slim 185 votes. Now Hellegaard has her sights set on a state House seat.
Democratic incumbent Ellie Hill has only one term under her belt, but her name recognition extends far beyond Helena. She is the former executive director of Missoula's Poverello Center, the state's largest homeless shelter, and in 2010 Time magazine named her to its "40 under 40" list of "rising stars" in American politics."
It's worth nothing that the city's Ward 4, which Hellegaard represented, overlaps with HD 94, meaning both candidates are well-known in that part of town.
Out of left (or right) field
Three dark-horse candidates, and why they matter
Libertarian Gary Johnson, President
Republican-cum-libertarian Gary Johnson is a man few will vote for and even fewer have heard of, yet he may play a key role in a presidential election going down to the wire. The former two-term New Mexico governor polls well in Western swing states like Colorado and Nevada, and has drawn support from a wide range of disenfranchised voters. Johnson depicts himself as more conservative than Romney on fiscal issues (he'd do away with the Internal Revenue Service) and more liberal than Obama on social issues (he supports legalization of marijuana). Johnson's no Ross Perot, but he could still introduce some chaos in key battleground states.
Libertarian David Kaiser, U.S. House of Representatives
Kaiser may not be a household name, but he has a distinct advantage in Montana's U.S. House race: nobody really knows who Democrat Kim Gillan or Republican Steve Daines are either. The overall anonymity gives Kaiser an abnormally level playing field for a third-party candidate.
The business consultant from Victor has provided an odd sideshow during the campaign. During one House debate this fall, Kaiser was asked how he felt the federal government should handle funding for Pell grants. “Just reduce tuition,” he replied. His answer to why he would repeal Obamacare quickly deteriorated into an unintelligible string of words until he finally cut himself off mid-sentence. Kaiser is an awkward, seemingly ill-informed candidate who is simply “sick and tired” of federal intrusion, but in a wide-open race anything is possible.
Libertarian Dan Cox, U.S. Senate
If there’s one dark horse Montanans should be paying particular attention to, it’s Cox. The Bitterroot Valley libertarian is on the Senate ticket next to Democratic incumbent Jon Tester and Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg, who are literally neck-and-neck in the polls. It’s not that Cox has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning; he’s consistently polled around 8 percent. It’s that with an estimated 2 percent of voters undecided in the Senate race, Cox could tip the scales dramatically.
During the Kalispell debate, Cox’s strongest moments were his appeals to undecideds fed up with the current political climate. “We keep hearing that Rehberg or Tester is the wrong choice,” he said. “I agree with both.” He positioned himself as a viable alternative.
Montana’s Senate race is already primed to come down to just a few thousand votes; considering the Senate majority may hang in the balance, that makes this the most critical election in the state this year. How much of that 2 percent Cox bleeds away from Tester and Rehberg, as well as where his existing 8 percent sits on the political spectrum, will be a deciding factor in the outcome.
Where to watch election results with the 47 percent
• Union Club, 208 E. Main St.
A longtime meeting place for local Democratic leaders and candidates
• Town & Country Lounge, 1616 S. Third St.
“This is a workingman’s bar,” says lounge manager Janine Nearing
• Charlie B’s, 428 N. Higgins Ave.
Engage in a surprisingly spirited debate, or avoid political talk altogether
Where to watch election results with the 1 percent
• The Resort at Paws Up, Greenough
But only if you booked early; there’s no availability on Nov. 6 at the luxury resort
• Triple Creek Ranch, Darby
A member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux, cabins start at $950 per night
• The Stock Farm Club, Hamilton
Hang in the Bitterroot with deep-pocket PAC donors like Charles Schwab
Four more beers shots
A partisan drinking game for election night
If we’re all going to spend a night collectively watching maps being colored, numbers being crunched and untold futures being saved/ruined, we may as well have some fun. The rules of this game are easy: Make both of the drinks listed below. When a Republican is declared the winner of a state race, take a shot of the red drink. If a Democrat wins, grab for the blue. Just be sure to play the same way you vote—responsibly.
Mix a shot of spiced rum with a dash of Liquid Ice Energy Drink (hey, you’re going to be up awhile watching these results). Add ice, stir.
Pour a half-shot of Irish cream over a half-shot of Sambuca. Then trickle a dash of grenadine over a spoon for red coloring and to give the impression of a mushroom cloud.
How to register at the last minute
Maybe you moved recently. Maybe you just turned 18. Maybe those voter-registration bunnies on the UM campus intimidate you. Whatever the reason, you are now days from the election and are still not registered to vote. Let us help you catch up.
Montana offers late and same-day voter registration, but you must get off the couch and head to the election center at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. Once there, the process is easy: Provide your name, address and a driver’s license and you’ll receive a voter packet and absentee ballot. There’s only one hitch: you must return your ballot to the election office before or on election day.
If late registration inspires a sudden concern about your voting status, rest easy. Anyone can visit the Montana Secretary of State website (sos.mt.gov) and click on My Voter Page. Fill in your name and date of birth and you can view your status and track your absentee ballot.