Funding gap widens in Montana's U.S. House race

Funding gap widens in Montana's U.S. House race

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In Montana’s U.S. House race, Democrat Kathleen Williams continues to stretch her fundraising lead in the final week of the primary election cycle, with Republican Matt Rosendale leading Republicans.

Williams entered the final week with $1.88 million raised, a record amount for a Montana Democratic candidate heading into a primary. The Bozeman conservationist had more than $1.18 million cash on hand. She is the first Democrat in at least 20 years to lead all candidates in fundraising heading into June.

Rosendale had raised $1.5 million, but was also spending $100,000 more in the past few weeks than he raised during that time. Asked if the veteran candidate’s spending was to counter advertising by primary opponents, Rosendale spokeswoman Shelby DeMars said the spending was more about getting in front of people while they’re paying attention. The candidate leads the Republican field in finances and name recognition.

“Matt wants to be communicating with voters while they’re paying attention, and right now they are,” DeMars said. “We’re very, very confident in the race, but Matt doesn’t take anything for granted, either.”

Rosendale, Montana's current state auditor, had more than $878,000 cash on hand.

Both Williams and Rosendale were identified by their parties this week as priority candidates in what’s expected to be one of the more competitive races for a U.S. House seat.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee included Williams among 18 candidates the DCCC thinks has chance to flip a House seat currently held by Republicans. The “Red to Blue” designation comes with resources from the committee.

“It's an honor to have the broad support we are receiving from Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, and is a testament to Montanans' interest in true, independent representation in Congress,” Williams said in an email.

State Rep. Tom Winter, D-Missoula, is Williams' primary election opponent. Winter was third among all House candidates in funds raised, with more than $362,000. He had $61,479 cash on hand.

Republicans have held Montana’s lone U.S. House seat since 1997.

Rosendale was designated a “Young Gun” by the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC offers mentorship and support to candidates with the designation.

“I am incredibly honored to be designated as a Young Gun in my race to represent Montana in the U.S. Congress,” Rosendale said in an announcement. “I look forward to working with Leader McCarthy to support President Trump and bring conservative principles to the House of Representatives in 2020 and restore the Republican Majority.”

Current Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte is a primary candidate for governor and isn’t seeking re-election to the House.

The Republican primary is a six-candidate race in which Rosendale’s receipts are more than four times as much as the rest of the Republican candidates combined. But opponents are advertising in May. Montana’s mail ballot election launched May 8 when voters were issued ballots with return postage paid. Ballots are due back county election offices no later than 8 p.m. June 2.

The lesser-funded Republican candidates, at least those who could afford ads, waited until May to get in front of voters. One of those candidates, Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, has outperformed better-funded opponents in the past by waiting until the final weeks of a primary to advertise, including in 2014 when Stapleton finished second behind Rep. Ryan Zinke. In that race, Rosendale had more than $1 million, nearly double Stapleton’s resources, but placed third.

This time scales tilt more in Rosendale’s favor. He’s coming off of a $5.9 million Senate challenge to incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2018. Though Rosendale lost the race, his name recognition from a campaign that included four Montana appearances with President Donald Trump should put him well ahead.

Stapleton this time around has spent only about $170,000, significantly less than his 2014 effort.

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