Just 15 days remain before the most ballyhooed midterm elections in recent memory, including Montana’s hotly contested U.S. Senate and House races – and several local and statewide ballot measures that have provoked considerable debate.
Over the past week, a number of big-name celebrities and organizations have gone public with endorsements in the race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and GOP challenger Matt Rosendale.
Here’s a look at the most significant announcements:
The biggest name on the scene last week, of course, was President Donald Trump, who made a 90-minute visit to Missoula to encourage voters to choose Rosendale and to re-elect Rep. Greg Gianforte to Montana’s single seat in the U.S. House.
Trump covered a lot of other territory too, as is his wont, and sparked an outcry when he praised Gianforte for body slamming a journalist on Election Eve in May 2017, an incident the congressman at first denied, then pled guilty to misdemeanor assault.
Coming as it did amid international condemnation for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of the Saudi government, the president’s remarks drew harsh criticism – although his Missoula audience laughed and cheered.
This week, Rosendale and Gianforte will get another boost in the guise of a two-day bus tour with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who has become a familiar face on the campaign trail in Montana this year.
Tester, meanwhile, benefited from a pair of major announcements that preceded Trump’s visit to Missoula.
On Wednesday in Bozeman, actor and part-time Montana resident Jeff Bridges hosted an event at Montana State University intended to get out the youth vote for Tester.
Bridges also put his vote – although he is registered in California – with Democratic House candidate Kathleen Williams.
“I see Tester on the tube and hear him talk … I’m in agreement with everything he says,” Bridges told his Bozeman audience. “Everything excites me about him. And Kathleen Williams.”
Bridges also recorded an advertisement touting Tester, saying: “A flattop-ed, seven-fingered dirt farmer. A champion for vets, public lands, education, health. Come on – that’s true grit, man. I’m talking about Jon Tester. Vote by November 6th.”
Tester will pick up another celebrity endorsement on Monday, when one of the planet’s most vaunted mountaineers, Conrad Anker, also speaks at MSU. Anker is a Bozeman resident and will appear on behalf of Protect Our Winters Action Fund, a climate-action PAC that has also endorsed Tester.
The most surprising and significant endorsement of the past week, though, came Wednesday from international outdoor apparel manufacturer Patagonia, which announced its first-ever political endorsements: for Tester in Montana’s Senate race and for Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen’s senatorial bid in Nevada.
“Public lands are center stage there, in Montana and Nevada,” Patagonia spokeswoman Corley Kenna said. “And we felt by motivating our community to vote, we could help protect the public lands and waters in those places.”
Here’s what surprised many political watchers:
While the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision freed corporations to make political endorsements since 2010, Patagonia was the first to explicitly endorse candidates when it released the advertisements and statements on behalf of Tester and Rosen.
Most corporations that have waded into politics have done so via political action committees that use employees’ contributions – not company dollars – to feed candidate coffers.
Patagonia, though, began to move aggressively into direct political action following Trump’s 2016 election, and then decisively with the administration’s decision to shrink the size of two national monuments in Utah.
The company’s website blacked out its homepage to deliver a single message: “The President Stole Your Land.”
And its founder, Yvon Chouinard, denounced the Trump administration as “evil.”
“I’m not going to sit back and let evil win,” he told CNN.
Chouinard also spoke out last week about Montana’s Senate race. Tester is the best candidate for the job, he said, “because he gives a damn about protecting public lands – and, like us, he’s committed to fight back against anyone who doesn’t.”
The protection of open lands is also at center stage in Missoula County this fall, where a proposed $15 million open space bond is on the November ballot.
Last week, Yes for Open Space, Rivers and Farmland – the group leading the pro-bond campaign – said more than 500 Missoula County businesses, organizations, community leaders and citizens have formally endorsed the bond.
Among the businesses and organizations are The Trailhead, Mamalode, Big Dipper Ice Cream, Missoula Downtown Association, Scariano Construction, Runners Edge, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Grizzly Liquor, Montana Conservation Voters and Hedahl Real Estate Services.
For the full list of endorsing individuals and groups, click here.
“We’re excited to see such broad and diverse support for renewing our county’s commitment to protecting open space, important farmland, and access to rivers and trails,” said Julie Gardner, treasurer of the ballot committee and a local real estate agent said in a written announcement. “Missoula County is facing unprecedented growth right now, and I think people understand how important it is to protect important land and water for future generations.”
In July, the Missoula County Commissioners unanimously approved a citizen-initiated request to place a $15 million open space bond on the November ballot, and the city added a $500,000 stewardship levy to that request.