BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Candidates in Montana's three-way battle to fill the state's sole U.S. House seat are hoping a late push for the public's attention and an upcoming televised debate will help cut through the noise of other races dominating the airwaves.
Republican businessman Steve Daines of Bozeman, Democratic state Sen. Kim Gillan of Billings and Libertarian restaurant consultant Dave Kaiser of Victor are vying to replace Republican Denny Rehberg.
With only six weeks until the election, political analysts give Daines the inside edge, based largely on indications showing Montana's electorate this year is leaning heavily toward the GOP and the fact that Daines is pummeling Gillan in the scramble for campaign cash.
A new poll commissioned by Lee Newspapers of Montana shows Daines with an 8-point edge over Gillan with 14 percent of voters undecided.
But Democrats say they are highly motivated to take back a seat they lost back in 1996, when former Rep. Pat Williams chose not to run after nine terms in office. And analysts say Gillan could get a boost as a well-known lawmaker from Montana's most populous city.
Rehberg passed up a bid for a seventh term to challenge incumbent Democrat Jon Tester for the U.S. Senate. As one of a handful of campaigns across the nation that could determine who controls the Senate, the Tester-Rehberg race has drawn millions of dollars for television and radio ads that have saturated the airwaves for months.
A televised debate in the House race scheduled for Tuesday gives the candidates a chance to take directly to voters their sharply divergent views on issues including the economy, health care and tax reform.
Gillan, who is term-limited after eight years in the state Senate and is a workforce development coordinator for Montana State University-Billings, wants to fix the federal budget crisis by reinstating higher taxes for the wealthy and using targeted cuts to reduce spending.
She says the key to creating more jobs is strengthening education, supporting small businesses and tapping into Montana's renewable energy potential.
"I have a proven track record; you can't buy one," Gillan said. "Everyone says they are going to do something. But I'm interested in actually solving the problem."
Daines is a former executive at Bozeman company RightNow Technologies and an unsuccessful 2008 Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. He started off his campaign running against Tester, but switched to the House race after Rehberg announced his Senate bid.
He said he wants to reduce the size of the federal government, repeal the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act and foster development of Montana's natural resources. Tax increases, he adds, are off the table.