Spending Spikes in Montana House Race

Businessman Greg Gianforte and musician Rob Quist — the Republican and Democrat facing off in Montana’s at-large special election — released dueling campaign commercials featuring shotguns on Thursday, and on Friday, Quist was going back on the airwaves.

The Quist campaign told Morning Consult it was releasing a new ad in which Quist vows to protect the right to hunt on public lands and to protect them from private developers, “unlike my opponent.”

The ad, released over a month before the May 25 contest, comes amid rising costs for the race to replace former GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, who left Congress to run the Department of the Interior. Both parties are attempting to maintain momentum after two earlier contests in Kansas and Georgia.

Earlier Friday, the Congressional Leadership Fund — a PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — said it was dropping $800,000 on behalf of Gianforte, the wealthy ex-gubernatorial candidate who is carrying the GOP’s efforts to hold the state’s at-large House seat.

The group’s new ad said Quist’s “record is more Nancy Pelosi than Montana,” and asks voters whether they can “trust Quist and Pelosi” with their tax dollars.  An earlier ad called the folk singer “too liberal and out of touch” for Montana.

Ad buys such as the CLF’s can go a long way in Montana, where television advertising time is much cheaper than highly populated congressional districts like those in Florida, Ohio or even suburban Atlanta, where Republicans this week successfully forced Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff into a runoff.

When the Judicial Crisis Network spent $100,000 on a week of advertising earlier this year pressuring Democratic Sen. Jon Tester to support Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, the commercial was widely seen on broadcast in Billings and Missoula, and some statewide satellite TV, one Democratic operative familiar with the state said. The state has five media markets.

Democrats expect to be able to compete financially. The Quist campaign said Thursday it has raised more than $2 million in just over six weeks, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it was “investing six figures” into Big Sky Country to help the state’s Democratic Party.

The DCCC’s spending is low for now, and a DCCC official told Morning Consult the committee is delegating decisions on disbursement to local operatives, who could divvy up the money on anything from television to a field program.

The National Republican Congressional Committee’s spending is also in the low six figures, at $148,000 according to a spokesman, but more is expected to be directed to Montana in the coming weeks.

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