Liberal Donors Prop Up Libertarian to Save Tester in Montana

Montana Democrat Senator Jon Tester is locked in a tight reelection battle with GOP Congressman Dennis Rehberg. It has long been seen as one of the more competitive Senate races in the country, and potentially pivotal to determining control of the Senate. Given Montana's political bent, Tester has been seen as a slight underdog. Polling shows the race very close, with political observers in the state giving the edge to Rehberg. So, Democrats are turning to their bag of tricks to try to save Tester.

Earlier today, my colleague Joel Pollak noted there are serious questions about the integrity of the vote when Tester was first elected. We can certainly expect more of this next week, but the Dems also seem to have found a novel new strategy to support Tester.

Tester defeated incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns by just 3,000 votes in the Democrat wave election in 2006. The Libertarian candidate in that race attracted 10,000 votes, possibly siphoning off enough votes to hand the election to Tester. This year, major liberal donors are trying to ensure the Libertarian candidate, Dan Cox, takes enough voters from Rehberg to again allow Tester to eke out a victory. It's not just a hope--they're buying hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads to support Cox. It's telling that they think they can best help Tester by promoting another candidate.

Last year, Democrat activists formed Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund to assist Tester's reelection. This summer, the Fund teamed up with the League of Conservation Voters to run $350k worth of TV ads against Rehberg. The MHA is principally funded by the LCV. So far, so normal. 

This week, however, it was reported that MHA is spending $500k in ads supporting the Libertarian candidate.

The ad, which began airing this week, criticizes Rehberg for supporting a bill that would give the Department of Homeland Security expanded authority over federal lands within 100 miles of U.S. borders.

Its closing frame then says: “Vote Cox. The Real Conservative.

The closing tagline is especially ironic, given the people involved with MHA:

Montana Hunters and Anglers President, Land Tawney
Member of Montana Sportsmen for Obama Committee (http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/mtsportsmen/)
Member of Senator Tester’s Montana Sportsmen’s Advisory Panel (http://tester.senate.gov/Newsroom/pr_021011_sportsmen.cfm)

Montana Hunters and Anglers Secretary, Kendall Van Dyke
Member of Montana Sportsmen for Obama Committee (http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/mtsportsmen/)
An elected Democrat State Senator from Billings (http://kendallvandyk.com/)

Montana Hunters and Anglers Treasurer, Barrett Kaiser
Former staffer to Sen. Max Baucus
Former consultant to Sen. Tester’s 2006 campaign (http://www.hilltoppublicsolutions.com/about/team_barrett.html)
Donor to Senator Tester (http://query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/qind/)

Montana Hunters and Anglers Treasurer, Beau Wright
Democrat activist and long time Tester supporter
http://bigskydemocrats.org/meetus
http://intelligentdiscontent.com/2006/05/28/490/
http://bigskydemocrats.org/

Montana Hunters and Anglers Director, George Cooper
Donor to Senator Tester (http://w5.melissadata.com/lookups/Fec.asp?cyear=2012&cident=C00412304)
Lobbyist for Forbes, Cauthen and Williams (The Forbes is Jeff Forbes, former Chief of Staff to Sen. Max Baucus)

Montana Hunters and Anglers Donor, Robin T Nichols
Donor to Montana Hunters and Anglers: total contributions $5,000
Donor to Tester: total contributions $2,500 (http://tinyurl.com/67xavm3)

These aren't exactly the people I would trust to inform my choice of which conservative to support. The bill at the center of the ad was bitterly opposed by environmental groups, because it exempted the U.S. Border Patrol from some environmental regulations that had been used to block their border enforcement actions. MHA is, of course, spinning the bill as some kind of federal take-over of federal lands. It isn't.

But, the specific issue isn't really important. If not this issue, the liberals posing as libertarians/conservatives would have simply found a different issue on which to attack Rehberg. It is clear that Tester can't win on his own and can't win advocating for Democrat positions. MHA's ad buy to support the Libertarian in the race confirms this. It's a very deeply cynical ploy that, unfortunately, may work. 

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