HELENA – It was a big weekend for Montana politics with the U.S. House Debate taking place in Helena and a U.S. Senate Debate on the University of Montana campus on Saturday.
The three candidates in Montana’s U.S. House race – Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte, Democratic challenge Kathleen Williams, and Libertarian Elinor Swanson – squared off live on MTN stations in their first debate of the campaign season.
- In run for second U.S. House term, Gianforte stresses business background – and Trump agenda
- Democratic U.S. House candidate Williams: Hoping for another upset
- Libertarian Swanson zeroes in on federal deficit in MT US House race
As expected, Congressman Gianforte spent plenty of time talking about his allegiance to President Trump – and how the policies of the president and Republicans in Congress have led to a strong economy.
“We have delivered results for Montana. You see it in the economy. We have more jobs than we have people looking for work. Wages are going up. Unemployment’s down. This is all good news,” rep. Gianforte said.
“This election truly is a question between results, working with President Trump, as I’ll do, and resistance, and working with Nancy Pelosi and going back to the failed policies of the Obama era,” he added.
Williams did her best to counter this argument and specifically took after the Republican tax-cut bill.
“The tax giveaway Is benefiting the wealthy. 83% of the benefit goes to the top 1%,” Williams said.
The debate also featured Libertarian Elinor Swanson. When asked why voters should consider the party, despite the fact that its candidates rarely win anything in Montana, Swanson said the party is getting more vibrant in Montana and elsewhere.
“We have almost 200 elected representatives around the country; Montana has the most Libertarians per capita of any state,” Swanson said. “This year we have 23 people running. We have an immense, just upsurge of support and excitement for the Libertarian Party.”
Rep. Gianforte also accused Williams of supporting sanctuary cities – and said Democrats’ support or Medicare for all will bankrupt the country.
Williams, however, said the sanctuary city charge is false – and that Rep. Gianforte has no health care plan, while she does.
“All Montanans need to have the opportunity for affordable, accessible health care. And I have a fairly detailed plan on how we can get to that including allowing people 55 and older to be able to buy into Medicare,” Williams said.
“Congressman Gianforte expressed support for the Graham-Cassidy bill that would have prohibited the protection for pre-existing conditions, it would have raised costs on our seniors and it would have knocked thousands of Montanans of their medical care,” she added.
But Rep. Gianforte’s message, loud and clear, is that he not only stands with the president but has his ear, too – on issues such as tariffs that may be hurting Montana agriculture.
“I’ve had a chance to talk to the president twice, face to face on this, and my encouragement to him was to bring these trade negotiations to a close. I’ve said all along I don’t favor broad-based tariffs,” rep. Gianforte said.
“I don’t think we saw any knock-out blows delivered here, in Saturday night’s debate, by either side. But we did see a very polished and disciplined incumbent, Greg Gianforte, who’s probably still the odds-on-favorite to win this race,” MTN Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison commented following the debate.
The Montana PBS Senate Debate between incumbent Democratic Senator Jon Tester and Republican challenger Matt Rosendale also took place Saturday.
Many topics were discussed and at some points a very heated debate between the two including an interesting exchange when the candidates talked about “dark money” being brought into Montana, especially during election season when campaign ads are in full swing.
“We need to increase more transparency, so we have maximum transparency on the dark money that’s coming into this these elections.” Sen., Tester said/ “Why? Because we need to know who’s trying to influence our elections.”
“It’s really important. It’s one of the reasons why I am endorsed by a group called end Citizens United,” the Democrat added. “They want to Go back to the way it was before Citizens United, so we have limits. So corporations aren’t people.”
“End Citizens United group is another one of those groups that has hidden contributors, and they’re running ads about fighting against so-called dark money,” Rosendale said.
“It is the height of hypocrisy. I think that what we need to focus on is making sure that we can get instantaneous notification on the contributions that they are receiving,” he added.
Watch the full US House debate above. The full US Senate debate is online at montanapbs.org. MTN will host a U.S. Senate debate on Saturday, October 6.
-Mike Dennison reporting for MTN News