Jul 3, 2014 7:45 PM by Sanjay Talwani
Campaigns for Montana's U.S. Senate race are picking up the pace and Summer is the season when political attack ads begin to bloom.
And sometimes, even your local news anchors unwillingly show up in these attack ads.
Montanans saw plenty of negative political ads in the 2012 and we're seeing more now. But one of this year's features Tim McGonigal and Shannon Newth, anchors at MTN's KXLH and KRTV. So what are they doing there?
In this case, the Super PAC American Crossroads pulled the images from a newscast describing a reprimand Sen. John Walsh got from the Army back in 2010, when he was adjutant general of the Montana National Guard.
But the ad leaves out a response from Gov. Steve Bullock (at the time, Walsh was lieutenant governor) as well as a more thorough defense of the situation by Walsh himself; Walsh noted that the affair related to his activity with a group that advocates for the National Guard and its members and their families. He said he had nothing to apologise for.
Other veterans -- including one whose serious injuries, he said, might have been prevented by the better equipment Walsh and the group called for -- came to his defense.
"Campaigns are basically fighting about narratives and fighting about how we see facts," David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University, told MTN. "So you put journalists in these advertisements, what it does is it lends credibility from the perspective of the campaign, to the narrative that they're trying to tell."
Most people don't trust politicians and don't trust Congress, he said.
"They hate Congress," he said. "Now admittedly, journalists are not necessarily perceived that well either among the general public, but they're perceived better."
Another more recent Daines ad features a woman who served in the Guard and says she was discriminated against there under Walsh's leadership; Walsh and the Guard have denied her claims. Walsh meanwhile has produced some ads pointing out Daines' conservative stance on abortion, and accusing him of moving jobs to China when he was an executive with Proctor & Gamble.
Mike Cooney, a Democrat and former 12-year Montana secretary of state, Senate president and candidate for governor, says campaigns seem to have grown more negative over the years, "People complain about it all the time during the campaign seasons but it wouldn't continue if it didn't have an effect," he said.
And money for ads looks only to increase in the wake of the Supreme Court's so-called Citizens United ruling in 2010. American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity have lined up behind Daines; Walsh has support from a outside group called VoteVets, which claims Daines'
support for veterans has been weak. Unions, environmental advocacy groups and corporate-backed Super PACs, as well as front groups with misleading names and opaque sources of support, could enter before it's over -- especially if the race appears competitive to the end.
Court rulings "allow them to spend unlimited amounts of money," Cooney said. "They don't even have to say where the money's coming from. ...
And Montana's a very inexpensive state when it comes to buying media, so they can be very aggressive."
Walsh meanwhile has introduced legislation to effectively overturn Citizens United. Daines has supported the ruling.
"Montanans are frustrated by the cost of elections and amount of money in campaigns -- but we also know that free speech for all is critical to a free society," Daines said in a statement. "I respect the role that the Supreme Court holds in protecting our First Amendment rights and believe that this decision was made with that protection in mind."
"Now will it work?" Parker asked of the negative ads. "I think the Daines logic of going negative now is simple. What they want to do is knock Walsh out of the race, I think, earlier. I mean, there have been some polls that have been showing double-leads and I think they're basically trying to ... stop any Walsh momentum before it begins."
Montanans can expect to see a lot more negative advertising between now and November. American Crossroads has already committed to $1.7 million in ad buys over the last six weeks of the campaign.