Politics as usual 

Sen. Conrad Burns’ alleged involvement with disgraced superlobbyist Jack Abramoff has turned Montana into a hotly contested battleground in the November election…and the salvos aren’t limited to TV ad runs and Internet blogs.

In recent months Montana Republicans have been fingered for a variety of online shenanigans, starting in January when a GOP electronic newsletter implored Republicans to “vote early and vote often” in two online newspaper opinion polls. Burns was taking a beating in those polls until the GOP urged followers to bombard the websites with votes supporting the incumbent.

That same month, Wikipedia.com, the online encyclopedia for which anyone can write and edit entries, linked Sen. Burns’ office to changes in his Wikipedia entry. References to Burns’ documented use of the word “ragheads” were scrubbed and a paragraph praising Burns as a “voice for the farmer” was added.

The most recent online mischief comes in the form of a website poking fun at state Democrats.

Visit BigSkyDemocrats.org and you get the website for “The Young Democrats of Montana.” But visit BigSkyDemocrats.com, and you get a “bigskydemo-crap” mockery of the original website subtitled “Facts Assail MT Democrats.” One link takes you to a picture of four tightly clad cowgirls with the faces of Senate candidates Jon Tester and John Morrison, House candidate Monica Lindeen and Gov. Brian Schweitzer superimposed on their heads. Another link brings up an inexplicable picture of former Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle holding a placard with Michael Jackson’s face on it.

The website’s creator calls it “art” and says it’s “nothing personal.”

“The various images are meant to poke fun in an effort to inject some much needed comic relief into the whole business of politics,” wrote Kaci Cliipe from Great Falls in an e-mail to the Independent.

“Good art inspires a reaction,” says Cliipe. “Here, the artist has a particular presupposition to proclaim…that Montana’s Republicans are doing well for the state…and ought to be reelected. The naysayers ought to be ridiculed.”

Jessica Rhoades, treasurer for the Big Sky Democrats, says this is just the kind of thing she’s come to expect from Montana Republicans.

“Clearly this is an effort by someone who has too much time on their hands,” she says.

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