Republican spends big on Senate election

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BILLINGS — A Montana businessman whose U.S. Senate campaign is chaired by the wife of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has outraised and outspent his Republican opponents — but only by pumping $650,000 of his own money into the race, according to new campaign filings.

Less than a quarter of the $860,000 that Troy Downing has raised came from individual donors, according to filings released by the Federal Election Commission over the weekend. The Air Force veteran who lives in Big Sky spent $710,000 through Dec. 31, primarily on advertising and consultants.

Spokesman Kevin Gardner said the early heavy spending was part of an aggressive campaign for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

“Troy’s committed to doing what’s necessary to win,” Gardner said.

Among other Republicans in the June primary, state Auditor Matt Rosendale has raised $765,000 and retired Judge Russell Fagg of Billings raised $615,000, according to campaign filings. Each had almost $500,000 in cash remaining as the year began, compared with less than $150,000 remaining for Downing.

“Cash on hand is the most important thing, and we (Fagg and Rosendale) are neck and neck, so I’m liking that,” Fagg said Monday.

Democrats criticized Fagg through the fall for running a supposed shadow campaign prior to officially declaring his candidacy. About $84,000 of his donations, roughly 14 percent of his total, came during that exploratory phase, according to his campaign.

State Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell raised $210,000, including $100,000 of his own money.

Tester, who is seeking a third six-year term, raised $9.4 million through Dec. 31. He had $6.3 million in cash entering the election year — far more than his opponents combined.

That advantage could quickly diminish if Republicans decide he’s vulnerable, as happened in 2012, when tens of millions of dollars in outside spending poured into a race between Tester and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg.

Tester’s campaign attributed his fundraising success to “grass-roots support.” But a major source of his money has been political action committees, or PACS, which have contributed almost $3 million to the Democrat.

PACs backing Tester ranged from groups representing unions and Planned Parenthood, to the financial and energy industries, according to his campaign filings.

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