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Senate hopefuls debate in Montana

BUTTE – U.S. Sen. John Walsh and U.S. Rep. Steve Daines debated for the first time Saturday as the campaign got underway in the race that could help determine control of the U.S. Senate.

Walsh, the Democratic incumbent, is seeking to retain the seat to which Montana Gov. Steve Bullock appointed him in February.

Daines, a first-term Republican congressman, jumped into the race after Democrat Max Baucus announced he wouldn’t run again and later resigned to become ambassador to China.

The third candidate, Libertarian Roger Roots, is the wild card.

Daines stuck to his campaign theme that he would work to increase jobs and reduce government interference, and he accused Walsh of wanting to grow government.

“It’s time that we put an end to the overreach of this president,” Daines said. “Let us in Montana run our lives and grow our businesses and raise our families.”

Walsh alluded to Daines as an obstructionist congressman who won’t vote yes for anything. Daines’ message of more jobs and less government is easy to say, Walsh said, but he actually did something when he was elected lieutenant governor in 2012.

“I entered the race because Washington is broken. Washington has a spending problem, and our congressman is a part of that problem,” Walsh said.

Roots said his opponents are part of “government supremacist parties” who have both voted to grow government, regardless of what they say.

“Every measurement of well-being improves when there is freedom and free markets,” Roots said.

The debate was largely a polite rehash of the candidates’ well-established positions, and Walsh and Daines both touted legislation they’d introduced or backed dealing with ways to balance the budget or improve health care services for veterans.