Montana Senate candidates clash over Kavanaugh nomination
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s Republican opponent accused the Montana Democrat on Saturday of slowing the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and called the judge an “honorable man” who’s been “smeared” by sexual assault allegations.
GOP candidate Matt Rosendale, the state auditor, faulted Tester for failing to meet with Kavanaugh and blaming it on the White House.
“There’s a man that has a commendable record,” Rosendale said of Kavanaugh. “He should be serving on the bench and absolutely I would vote for him.”
In taking the offensive on an issue that’s sharply divided the nation, Rosendale was mirroring President Donald Trump, who urged Republicans at a rally in West Virginia Saturday to stand up against the “ruthless and outrageous tactics” of Democrats in the confirmation fight.
Tester defended his decision to oppose Kavanaugh while avoiding direct mention of the allegations of assault from Christine Blasey Ford and claims of misconduct from two other women — all dating from decades ago.
Instead, Tester said he was concerned about Kavanaugh’s support of government surveillance, dark money in politics and government involvement in health care, a reference to worries that Kavanaugh could tip the court in the abortion debate.
Tester is among a handful of vulnerable Senate Democrats who represent states won by Trump, including North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, West Virginia Sen. Manchin and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.
When Rosendale criticized Tester for failing to meet with the nominee, Tester responded that he couldn’t find a date that worked for the White House.
“I don’t think he has the merits or the background to meet the needs of the Supreme Court ... A no vote was obvious,” Tester said.
Tester added in an apparent reference to Ford that “even the president said this person is compelling.” Although he made no mention of the specific allegations, Tester had cited them a day earlier when announcing he was going to vote against Kavanaugh.
President Donald Trump ordered the FBI on Friday to reopen Kavanaugh’s background investigation.
Tester, a farmer from Big Sandy and a former president of the Montana Senate, also voted against Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. He said the decision was based in part on a Gorsuch opinion that equated corporations with people and another that said campaign contributions deserve First Amendment protections.
Even before the dramatic hearings featuring Ford and Kavanaugh, Republicans had sought to make the Supreme Court a key issue in Montana’s Senate race. The National Rifle Association spent more than $400,000 on ads criticizing Tester’s last three Supreme Court confirmation votes.
Both candidates on Saturday lamented the influence of money in politics and cast their opponent as a tool of special interest groups flooding Montana’s airwaves with negative campaign ads.
Tester attacked Rosendale for using a loophole in campaign rules to skirt limits on contributions from individuals. The Democrat also highlighted reports that Rosendale used $10,000 in donations earmarked for past campaign debt to boost his 2016 campaign for state auditor, then dropped penalties the donors’ company was facing after he took office.
Campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon has said in both instances, Rosendale followed the law.
Rosendale countered by pointing out that Tester was the “No. 1 recipient of lobbyist contributions across the nation” in this campaign cycle, according to a previous ranking by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
“Jon stood before the people of Montana 10, 12 years ago and said there was a problem in the lobbyists’ money being involved in our elections and he would not be encumbered by it,” Rosendale said.
As of Saturday, the Democratic lawmaker had dropped to No. 3 on that list, taking in $421,027 and ranking behind two other Democrats, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.
A second Senate debate is set for next Saturday in Great Falls, the last before the Nov. 6 election. Absentee ballots will be sent out beginning Oct. 12, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MatthewBrownAP .