Surprise U.S. Senate candidate Susan Cundiff approaching campaign `one step at a time’

2014-05-05T00:00:00Z 2014-06-03T20:49:09Z Surprise U.S. Senate candidate Susan Cundiff approaching campaign `one step at a time’By MIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
May 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series on the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate.

HELENA — U.S. Senate candidate Susan Cundiff, a surprise entry in the Republican primary for the seat, says she’s not daunted by the prospect of taking on better-known and better-funded candidates.

“It’s like scaling a mountain,” she said in a recent interview. “How do you scale a mountain? One step at a time.”

Cundiff, 36, a department assistant at the University of Montana School of Business Administration in Missoula, has quite a mountain to scale.

She’s never run for political office before, became a candidate on the last day of filing in March, is barely known among party regulars, and is up against U.S. Rep. Steve Daines and his $2.2 million campaign fund.

In addition to Cundiff and Daines, state Rep. Champ Edmunds of Missoula is competing in the June 3 Republican U.S. Senate primary. The winner takes on the winner of a three-way Democratic primary for the seat held by Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., who was appointed to the seat in February and is running to retain it.

Cundiff, a single mother with three daughters, says while she may lack political experience, she has plenty of life experience and a view of the world that many Montanans share.

“Mr. Daines has done a lot of good things in Congress; I don’t think we’re enemies,” she says. “It’s just that I have a little bit different perspective. …

“I’m coming from a very grass-roots (view). I’m raising three girls by myself. I understand very well the impact of legislation on individual families. Even though I don’t have a political voting record, I have a record as a person. I have a different knowledge base.”

Cundiff grew up in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., and came to Montana when she was 20. She has Native American relatives here, but is not an enrolled member of a tribe.

She served in the National Guard in Montana for three years and eventually earned a degree from the University of Montana in communications studies. In addition to working at the UM School of Business Administration, she sells skin care and beauty products and works at Victoria’s Secret in Missoula’s Southgate Mall.

Cundiff says one thing she’d emphasize as U.S. senator is the need for more adoptive parents for children without parents.

“We talk a lot about international adoption, but we don’t talk about it in our nation,” she says. “They are kind of the forgotten children.”

Cundiff describes herself as a conservative who would strive to protect freedom of speech, the right to bear arms and right to privacy. She also wants to press for spending cuts to balance the budget, but not in the military.

“There are too many things in our (federal) budget that are more of a ‘want to’ than a ‘need to,’” she says, and cutting out the unnecessary items will create more money for programs that are truly needed.

While Cundiff says she’s a conservative and a strong Republican, she says she’d work to “open up the line of communications” between the parties to “stop the bottleneck” in Congress.

Cundiff says she’s raised only a few thousand dollars for her campaign and has attended a half-dozen local Republican Party events, but that she’s trying to get out as much as she can to meet voters.

“I’ve always wanted to make a difference and be involved,” she says when asked why she launched her long-shot candidacy. “It’s not enough for me just to get by.”

Coming Tuesday: A look at U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, a Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate.

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