Friday, July 13, 2012

Senate race 2012: Tester v. Rehberg gets darker

Posted By on Fri, Jul 13, 2012 at 10:45 AM

Last month, Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg appeared at a gathering of the conservative policy advocacy group The Ripon Society to talk immigration, economic growth and healthcare alongside GOP senate candidates from Arizona, Nevada and North Dakota. Rehberg took the opportunity to riff about his 2012 “full-body-contact” senate bid against Democratic incumbent Jon Tester, the most dramatic moments of which are playing out in television ads across the state. “We’ve literally bought all the [broadcast ad] time from now until November,” Rehberg said. “The good news is it only costs $130,000 a week in Montana.”

TV viewers have seen a lot of Tester and Rehberg since then. Here’s the latest rundown of ads from Montana’s 2012 senate race.

Rehberg: Rehberg launched his fifth official campaign ad two weeks back, one that marked a sudden swing away from his initial attacks on Tester. The spot featured a Bozeman couple sharing the story of their struggle to adopt their Nepalese daughter, and how Rehberg swooped in to save the day when they hit bureaucratic red tape. “He didn’t know us,” says the father, Pete Schmieding. “But he met with us on Thanksgiving Day.” The ad almost seems an answer to Tester’s May spot detailing the incumbent’s personal relationship with disabled Montana veteran Tomy Parker.

Tester: Last week, the Tester campaign released its first official attack ad of the season. In the spot, breast cancer survivor Lisa Jones hits Rehberg hard for his vote against funding for a number of small clinics in Montana—clinics that, among other things, conduct cancer screenings for women like her. Last year, Rehberg cast a party-line vote in favor of an appropriations bill that cut funding for Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics across the country. According to Roll Call, the ad spot cost the Tester campaign $60,000.

Outsiders: Crossroads GPS launched yet another ad against Tester this month. The group continues to hammer Tester for supporting healthcare reform, and once again accuses him of voting alongside President Obama 95 percent of the time. During last month’s debate in Big Sky, Tester refuted this allegation, which has come not just from Crossroads GPS but the Rehberg campaign as well. “You can cherry-pick votes where I supported the administration,” Tester said. But “there’s plenty of things where we’ve disagreed, and I could go down the list, from the auto bailout to the Greece bailout to wolves...The list goes on and on. I think what you need to do is look at who supports Montana in Washington, D.C.”

Tester felt the heat from Americans for Prosperity last month as well. The right-leaning issue advocacy organization claimed that the Center for Responsive Politics ranked Tester as the number one recipient of lobbyist dollars in the senate—an allegation easily refuted by PolitiFact shortly after the ad aired. CRP's top-20 ranking, it turns out, is based on campaign contributions made in the 2011-2012 electoral cycle. Most of the senate’s highest recipients of lobbyist donations aren’t running for re-election this year; as PolitiFact pointed out, “if you equalize the playing field by looking at a full six-year senatorial term...Tester barely cracks the top 50 in lobbyist donations.”

According to the latest ad from Montana Hunters and Anglers, “it’s open season on Montana” with Rehberg in D.C. The group focused its July 10 attack on Rehberg’s vote in favor of the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act last year. The ad calls the bill “Rehberg’s land grab.” The League of Conservation Voters—which has dropped $334,355 in Montana supporting Tester and $410,081 opposing Rehberg—has held a number of anti-Rehberg rallies this summer based on the congressman’s support for handing the Department of Homeland Security authority over all federal lands within 100 miles of an international border.

VoteVets also launched an offensive against Rehberg this month. The organization’s first Montana ad, titled "Lucky," focused on Rehberg’s vote in 2011 against a funding increase for prosthetic research proposed by Democrats during a discussion on the House floor; the Tester campaign took that same proverbial swing at Rehberg just after the primary elections. Despite the “paid for” claim at the end of the ad, the VoteVets spot was actually funded by Patriot Majority USA, a Democratic interest group, to the tune of $100,966. According to independent expenditure reports filed with the FEC, Patriot Majority USA has spent $509,297.10 opposing Rehberg in Montana to date.

And television connoisseurs likely glimpsed a new ad from the Montana Democratic Party this month. The Dems accused Rehberg of having “forgotten where he comes from,” based on his opposition to increased taxes on wealthy Americans. “Remind him,” the ad urges viewers, “he’s supposed to be a congressman for all Montanans.” The spot comes off as particularly dark when viewed next to the Dems’ internet video from last month mocking Rehberg for pulling out of the Montana Broadcasters Association debate in Whitefish.

Correction: This post has been updated to correct an error. The post initially stated Rehberg had voted against a bill that included funding for Planned Parenthood clinics.

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