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Republican spends heavily seeking Montana senate nomination

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 5, 2018

By Matthew Brown Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. – A Montana businessman whose U.S. Senate campaign is chaired by the wife of Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke has outraised and outspent his Republican opponents – but only by pumping $650,000 of his own money into the race, according to campaign filings released by the Federal Election Commission.

Less than a quarter of the money Troy Downing raised came from individual donors, according to the filings released over the weekend. The Air Force veteran who lives in the Yellowstone Club near Big Sky spent $710,000 through Dec. 31, primarily on advertising and consultants.

Spokesman Kevin Gardner said the early heavy spending was part of an aggressive campaign for the nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. “Troy’s committed to doing what’s necessary to win,” Gardner said.

Among other Republicans in the June primary, state Auditor Matt Rosendale has raised $765,000 and retired Judge Russell Fagg of Billings raised $615,000, according to campaign filings.

Each had almost $500,000 in cash remaining as the year began, compared to less than $150,000 remaining for Downing.

Democrats criticized Fagg through the fall for running a supposed shadow campaign prior to officially declaring his candidacy. About $84,000 of his donations came during that exploratory phase, according to his campaign.

State Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell raised $210,000, including $100,000 of his own money.

Tester, who is seeking a third six-year term, raised $9.4 million through Dec. 31. He had $6.3 million in cash entering the election year – far more than his opponents combined.

That monetary advantage could quickly diminish if Republicans decide he’s vulnerable, as happened in 2012, when tens of millions of dollars in outside spending poured into a race between Tester and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg.

Tester’s campaign attributed his fundraising success to “grassroots support.” But a major source of his money has been political committees, or PACS, which have contributed almost $3 million to the Democrat.

PACs backing Tester ranged from groups representing unions and Planned Parenthood, to the financial and energy industries, according to his campaign filings.

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