HELENA — A hunters-and-anglers group sympathetic to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester has spent $500,000 on a new TV ad in his Senate race — telling voters to support the Libertarian candidate, Dan Cox.
Cox, who owns a fishing lure manufacturing company in Hamilton, is the third person in the high-profile Senate contest between Tester and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg.
The ad, which began airing this week, criticizes Rehberg for supporting a bill that would give the Department of Homeland Security expanded authority over federal lands within 100 miles of U.S. borders.
Its closing frame then says: “Vote Cox. The Real Conservative.”
The ad is funded by the Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund, a political-action committee financed earlier this year by the League of Conservation Voters, a leading conservation and environmental group backing Tester.
Rehberg’s campaign manager, Erik Iverson, said he found it extraordinary that Tester’s supporters are now essentially telling voters to vote for someone else.
“It’s remarkable that, with a little over a week to go before Election Day, that Jon Tester’s supporters have basically thrown in the towel to get more Montanans to vote for Tester, and they’re now trying to get people to vote for the Libertarian instead of Denny Rehberg,” he said. “They seem to simply have given up the case that Jon Tester should be re-elected.”
Aaron Murphy, a spokesman for the Tester campaign, said Friday that Rehberg’s support of the Homeland Security bill is a good reason to vote against him.
“Most Montanans oppose this bill, including Jon Tester, Dan Cox and (Republican U.S. House candidate) Steve Daines, so the real question is why does Dennis Rehberg insist that trampling our freedoms is good for Montana?” he said.
Rehberg has said while he supports the bill, he insisted on including language that prohibits the measure from interfering with approved, prior uses on federal park, forest and other land.
Recent polls have shown the race to be a virtual dead heat between Tester and Rehberg, making it possible that Cox’s showing could influence the final outcome.
Cox said Friday that he had never heard of the group sponsoring the ad or had anything to do with it, but that he “loved the commercial.”
“I couldn’t have put together a better commercial against Rehberg on my behalf,” he said.
The ad shows a man and his son on a hunting trip, and the son discovers a remote surveillance camera in the trees, filming them. The man then gets a rifle and shoots the camera.
“Congressman Dennis Rehberg would let the Department of Homeland Security monitor and control public access on public lands,” the ad’s narrator says. “That may look good in Washington, but in Montana, not by a long shot.”
The treasurer of the Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund, Joe Splinter of Lewistown, could not be reached for comment.
The group on Friday reported spending $498,000 on TV ads, another $40,000 on web ads, and $146,000 on mailing costs, all to oppose Rehberg. The group reported receiving $410,000 from the League of Conservation Voters this summer, but reports on its income after Sept. 30 aren't available.