HELENA -- With nearly 170,000 absentee ballots sent out Monday and the primary election a month away, two more Republicans are on the television airwaves trying to break through the crowded seven-candidate GOP field for governor.
The campaigns of former state Sen. Corey Stapleton, a financial adviser from Billings, and national security consultant Neil Livingstone, of Helena, are running TV ads. They join former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill of Helena, whose spot was covered in a story that ran Tuesday.
Other Republican candidates are rancher Bob Fanning, of Pray, former state Transportation Director Jim Lynch, of Kalispell, former state Sen. Ken Miller, of Laurel, and Chouteau County Commissioner Jim O'Hara.
Both Stapleton's and Livingstone's TV spots criticize Montana's economic performance under Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election. Schweitzer often touts how Montana's economy has improved under his leadership.
Stapleton said he's been on the air since April 30 and his TV ad will run until May 14, with a larger statewide buy than Hill's, except in Helena. Hill's campaign wouldn't provide comparable advertising buy numbers Monday.
"We've got more amperage up," Stapleton said.
In an ad called, "Aircraft Carrier," Stapleton, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and a former Navy officer, likens his experience at sea to trying to turn Montana state government around.
In the ad, Stapleton is shown walking alone and then with his family in the fields near Pryor, south of Billings, on the Crow Indian Reservation. The ad also shows a windmill at sunset and an oil refinery.
"I used to drive aircraft carriers for a living, so I know a thing or two about the difficulties of turning a big ship around," Stapleton says in the ad. "Turn around too slowly, and you'll never get there. Turn too quickly, a lot of people can get hurt.
"Well, turning our government around is a lot like that aircraft carrier. With Montana's now record unemployment, it's time for new blood and fresh ideas in Helena.
"We need a common-sense conservative leader who'll do things for the right reasons. I'll be that kind of governor. I'm Corey Stapleton and together we can turn this ship around."
Stapleton said Tuesday he was referring in the ad to the total number of Montanans unemployed, not to the state unemployment rate. The number of unemployed Montanans peaked at 35,178 in July 2011, and 31,210 were unemployed in March 2012, the latest month for which statistics were available.
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He said more Montanans have been unemployed during the seven-plus years under Schweitzer than under any governor in state history. However, Barbara Wagner, senior economist at the state Department of Labor and Industry, called the number of unemployed people "an indication of population growth more than an economic indicator."
Labor Department statistics show that the state's unemployment rate under Schweitzer hit a peak of 7 percent for four months in 2010 and two months in 2011, but was as low as 3.1 percent for three months in 2006. The most recent rate was 6.2 percent in March.
Livingstone, meanwhile, said he is running both television and radio ads, with some new spots coming up soon.
"I have a significant larger TV buy than anyone," he said. "It's in the six-figures. We've got a lot going on right now."
One ad running now shows Livingstone sitting in front of a fireplace, with a fire burning. Here's what he says.
"Hi, I'm Neil Livingstone and I'm running for governor. As a state, we're down near the bottom of the barrel in family income, next to Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi.
"We need good jobs so we can support our families, churches and communities. It's time to mine, drill and log in this state.
"If you want business as usual, I'm not your candidate. But if you want change, real change, and solutions that work for working Montanans, then I need your support."
Federal census statistics show that Montana ranked 37th among the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia in 2010 with a median family income of $54,507.
Montana outpaced the three states mentioned by Livingstone in 2010, according to the Census and Economic Information Center in the state Commerce Department. Mississippi ranked 51st in median family income at $45,484, while Arkansas was 49th at $47,049, and West Virginia 48th at $48,927. Puerto Rico was last at $21,645.
Montana outpaced Idaho in that category, but trailed North and South Dakota and Wyoming.