FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, June 18, 2020
Cook Political Report: Montana Senate Moves to Toss Up
By: Jessica Taylor
Montana skyrocketed to competitive status earlier this year when Democrats finally convinced term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock to jump into the race and challenge first-term GOP Sen. Steve Daines. That decision at the beginning of March came just before the COVID pandemic spread throughout the U.S., limiting the amount of campaigning either candidate could do.
But the past few months have also highlighted the unique nature of this race, as the only contest with a sitting governor seeking a Senate seat. And like other governors who have ably handled the pandemic — especially in comparison to the Trump administration’s bungling — Bullock has seen his approval ratings rise exponentially too, up to 75 percent in one poll…and Bullock has gotten plaudits for closing the state early as it began to reopen last month.
So it’s not surprising that Bullock seems to have benefited from his gubernatorial leadership during this crisis and being in the news daily. Recent private Democratic polling in the contest gives Bullock a small lead and finds that Bullock’s approval ratings are more than 20 points higher than Daines, though the incumbent senator remains slightly above water.
But there’s some evidence that maybe Bullock’s performance with handling COVID-19 and generally good favorability in the state makes this a unique situation where traditional rules may not apply. Unlike other states with candidates newer to the statewide ballot, Bullock is already well-defined in voters’ minds, and it may be harder to change voters’ opinions of him. Bullock’s fundraising has been impressive since he got in, too — he outraised Daines by about $2.1 million in the first fundraising quarter, despite being in the race for less than a month before the deadline. In the six week pre-primary filing period too ahead of the June 2 primary, Bullock again outpaced the incumbent by a nearly two-to-one margin and pulled within $1.6 million of Daines’s cash of hand advantage.
Daines’s ads have leaned heavily into blaming China for the pandemic, echoing talking points from the White House. However, his own background — and continued revelations about Trump and China — may negate the efficacy of those attacks. Before entering politics, Daines worked for Procter & Gamble, eventually moving overseas to work for them in Hong Kong & China.
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