HELENA — Here is a look at the week's most interesting and important developments in Montana's election campaigns.
Candidates debate in Butte: The Montana Newspaper Association and Montana PBS are sponsoring the first U.S. Senate and U. S. House of Representatives candidate debates in Butte on Saturday.
The debates will be live streamed on the Gazette's website. Click here to view the debates starting at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
The debates will be held in the Library Auditorium at Montana Tech. The U. S. Senate debate will begin at 1:30 p.m., followed by the U. S. House debate at 3:30 p.m.
Incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. John Walsh is seeking to retain the seat he was appointed to against Republican U.S. House Rep. Steve Daines and Libertarian candidate Roger Roots.
Republican former state Sen. Ryan Zinke faces Democratic former Baucus aide John Lewis and Libertarian Mike Fellows in the Nov. 4 election for Montana's lone House seat being vacated by Daines.
The debates, which are free to the public, are the only ones in either race that have been scheduled so far.
Daines, Walsh address VA problems: Daines and Walsh each responded strongly to a new audit released this week detailing long wait times for patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals across the nation, including an average 48-day wait for a first appointment at the VA medical center at Fort Harrison.
Walsh joined a group of senators calling for a criminal investigation. Daines' campaign touted the congressman's co-sponsorship of the Veterans Access to Care Act, which is designed to make it easier for veterans to see non-VA doctors.
The measure passed the House unanimously Tuesday.
Walsh voted for legislation that passed the Senate Wednesday to authorize $35 billion over three years to pay for outside care for veterans.
Daines airs ad attacking Walsh's record: Daines' campaign has released an ad alleging Walsh mismanaged taxpayer dollars, used government resources for personal gain and demonstrated questionable ethics as Montana's adjutant general.
The ad, "Personal Gain," says the U.S. Army formally reprimanded Walsh for improperly using government resources and as a result, the Army "questioned Walsh's ability to lead."
The Walsh campaign responded to the ad by saying the reference to mismanaged money related to a Department of Military Affairs audit that began before he was named adjutant general and which was corrected.
The Army reprimand was for Walsh using his position as adjutant general to pressure troops to join the National Guard Association of the United States, an independent lobbying group to which Walsh was seeking a leadership position. Walsh said his interest in the volunteer position was to obtain better equipment for combat troops, and he characterized the reprimand as getting "thrown in jail for jaywalking."
After the primary election, Walsh said he expected his opponents to try to "Swiftboat" his strong military record, a reference to a group of veterans that made unsubstantiated claims about John Kerry's war record during the Democrat's 2004 presidential campaign.
Lewis outlines energy platform: Lewis this week outlined an energy plan that he says will boost good-paying jobs in traditional resource development and renewable resources, along with research and technology.
"With a wealth of coal, oil, natural gas, wind, hydropower and timber, Montana is in the driver's seat to lead the nation toward energy independence," he said in the document. "Instead of waiting and reacting to national policies, we should be in the driver's seat when it comes to energy policy."
The ideas include making the Indian Coal Production tax credit permanent and ending the corn ethanol mandate and shifting to advanced biofuels.
Zinke told the AP Friday he disagrees with much of the Lewis framework, including his ideas on bioenergy and boosting wind capacity with the help of tax credits for producers.
Zinke said he opposes subsidies for energy producers. "I'm an advocate for research and development but when it comes to feel-good energy, it has to live on its own in the free market," he said.