Montana Democrats slam the ‘three rich guys from Bozeman’  - TAI News
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Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) speaks to media during the weekly Senate Republican Leadership press conference, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, March 6, 2024. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

What’s wrong with this picture? A group of Democrats makes a major ad buy in Montana’s largest media market, slamming a Republican senator. In a season saturated with partisan political ads, such would seem as unremarkable as another gust of wind on the Great Plains.

But a closer look shows a curious anomaly: The ads are targeting the state’s junior senator, Steve Daines. Daines is not on the ballot this year, not until 2026, when these ads will have vanished like yesterday’s wind.

“We launched the ads against our junior senator because he does more to help out-of-state billionaires than his own constituents in Montana,” said Dayna Swanson, senior adviser to the group called Working Montanans, which she identified as a coalition of mostly labor and education groups in the state. She said in an interview that the trigger for the six-figure ad buy was Daines’ vote for the 2017 Trump-era tax cuts for the wealthy. “Steve Daines supports millionaires and billionaires and corporations more than he supports everyday working Montanans.”

This quote is pretty standard Democratic boilerplate, but there’s a subtext aimed at a raw nerve that is central to Montana’s election this year. Call it, for lack of a more sophisticated term, the three-rich-guys-from-Bozeman strategy.

“It does fit into that strategy,” Swanson said. “Do Montanans want to be represented by three millionaires or billionaires living in Gallatin County, which is very different from the other 55 counties across the state?”

Her statement needs some unpacking. Both recent polling and cafe and pub chatter show a remarkable uniformity in the issues weighing on Montana’s voters this year. Almost all of them stem from rapidly rising costs for all things, but especially for housing and property taxes. Montana has the fastest-rising housing costs in the nation, driven by in-migration, especially of wealthy people who are unfazed by sticker shock and willing to pay the tariff for living in a mountain paradise. Gallatin County, which holds the burgeoning town of Bozeman, is ground zero, with housing prices there doubling in just the last six years. Further, Bozeman has long been referred to as “Boz Angeles” by the rest of Montana as a result of the shifting culture.

Whether warranted or not, sentiments throughout the state lean toward stereotypes vilifying wealthy newcomers to Bozeman, and the state’s Republican leadership personifies the dynamic. Daines — not technically an outsider because he left and moved back — made part of his wealth working in the same Bozeman-based business, RightNow, as Greg Gianforte, the state’s Republican governor who is on this fall’s ballot. Gianforte is from New Jersey and, to make matters more challenging for him, also deserves some of the blame for the rapid rise in residential property taxes at the same time as his administration gave property tax cuts to some corporations, and at the same time as taxes on a house he owns in Helena got cut.

Add to the mix Tim Sheehy, also a Bozeman-based rich guy, also a newcomer, endorsed by Gianforte and hand-picked by Daines to run against the incumbent Democrat, Jon Tester, a farmer from the high plains town of Big Sandy. Daines has been chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee since 2022. Three rich guys from Bozeman form the triumvirate that sits at the top of the Republican pyramid. 

Both Tester and Democrat Ryan Busse, who is running to unseat Gianforte, have trumpeted this theme in their advertising and public comments. 

Yet the raw nerve here is not completely partisan, bringing Daines into sharper focus in the picture. Incumbent Rep. Matt Rosendale (also a rich newcomer) planned to challenge Sheehy in the Republican primary, but got pushed out of the race. Some conservative Republicans who aligned with Rosendale believe that Daines was responsible for these machinations and chastised him publicly for it.

The state’s Freedom Caucus, which is made up of many of the most conservative Republicans in the Legislature, took a vote and refused to endorse Sheehy largely because of Daines’ tactics. 

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