Lewis and Zinke

John Lewis, left, and Ryan Zinke

HELENA – Democratic U.S. House candidate John Lewis unveiled his first TV ad of the campaign Monday, in which he takes a veiled shot at his Republican opponent, Ryan Zinke.

Lewis, a former top staffer for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, appears in the 30-second ad with his wife, Melissa, and their two young children outside a Helena home, before saying “I don’t have my own super PAC trying to buy me a seat in Congress.”

The reference is to Special Operations for America, a political action committee (PAC) founded by Zinke that so far has spent at least $205,000 on independent expenditures supporting Zinke’s candidacy.

The ad also touts Lewis’ proposal to reform Congress by cutting congressional pay by 10 percent, restricting when PACs can help their founders running for office, and requiring Congress to pass a budget before getting paid.

Zinke’s campaign didn’t respond directly to the jab about the PAC, but called Lewis a “D.C. insider who has spent his life drawing a government salary and catering to the needs of special interest groups – not Montanans.”

“Lewis is once again misleading Montanans with this ad and Montana deserves better than to be represented by a political hack that is merely taking the positions he believes will get him elected,” said Zinke’s campaign spokeswoman, Shelby DeMars.

Lewis campaign spokeswoman Kathy Weber said Lewis’ proposals would help reform a system that allows Zinke to use a special-interest PAC to round up out-of-state money to support his candidacy.

The Lewis spot begins airing Tuesday on television stations statewide, said Lewis campaign spokeswoman Kathy Weber. The campaign released a copy of the ad Monday.

Lewis, Zinke and Libertarian Mike Fellows of Missoula are competing for Montana’s sole U.S. House seat, which is open this year because U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is running for the U.S. Senate.

Zinke is a former state senator from Whitefish and retired U.S. Navy SEAL officer. Lewis worked a dozen years for Baucus, leaving last year when he was Baucus’ state director.

TV ads have been airing since late last year in Montana’s U.S. Senate race, but the contest for Montana’s U.S. House seat usually doesn’t heat up on the air waves until around Labor Day.

Lewis had only nominal competition in the June primary election, allowing him to build up his campaign fund, while Zinke won a closely fought, five-way Republican primary for the seat, spending considerable funds on TV ads before the June 3 election.

Zinke has yet to run TV ads during the general election season.

Lewis had about $623,000 in his campaign account as of June 30, out of $1 million in total campaign funds raised. Zinke collected $1.6 million in campaign funds through June 30, but had spent all but $97,000 of it by that date.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at mike.dennison@lee.net.

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