LEWISTOWN, Mont. — It’s been snowing here in Montana as an early-fall cold front rolls through the state.
But the real blizzard has been on the state’s airwaves, where one of the nation’s hottest races for the U.S. Senate has been playing out in wave after wave of negative TV ads.
The incumbent, Democrat Jon Tester, is running against the state’s longtime U.S. representative, Republican Dennis Rehberg. It’s a race that would be a big deal in Montana at any time, but it’s taken on national significance since it could affect control of the Senate.
So, like that cold front, millions of dollars have been rolling into the state from all sorts of sources — national political committees and any number of the so-called “super PACs” that were unleashed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case.
Montana’s sparse population — the state has fewer than 1 million souls — means that it costs a lot less to campaign for a Senate seat here than it does virtually anywhere else in the United States. And with relatively few TV stations, it’s easy to blanket the state with wave after wave of ads — and, it almost goes without saying, most of the political ads on TV in this race are negative.
So if you watch a couple of hours of TV here in the Treasure State — and it could be at any time of the day, even now, with nearly a month until the election — you’ll learn a lot about the horrible actions and deeds of both Tester and Rehberg, two men who actually have served the state relatively well for many years.
What you won’t learn is much at all about the candidates’ positions on any of the important issues facing the United States, or Montana for that matter.
Political experts say that the reason you see so much negative advertising in campaigns is because it works. Maybe that’s true. But it’s hard to imagine how voters can be expected to keep all the charges and counter-charges straight, let alone sort out the kernels of truth from the plentiful chaff of insinuation and misdirection.
By the time you read this, I’ll be back in Oregon, where I’m expecting better weather and fewer negative campaign ads — but that’s because we have few, if any, races attracting national attention and the state doesn’t seem to be in play in the presidential campaign.
So we’re not likely to see the blizzard of negative advertising that voters in Montana are enduring. But we’ll still have to get through a flurry or two before Election Day, and every negative ad will leave us with a sour taste and a nagging sense that there has to be a better way to elect our representatives. (mm)