061712 Debate: Rehberg Tester

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., right, listens while U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., makes a point during a debate along with Libertarian candidate Dan Cox at the Montana Newspaper Association convention in Big Sky. The three are running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Tester.

KURT WILSON/Missoulian

HELENA – Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg’s campaign says a hard-hitting TV ad that accuses him of voting to eliminate cancer-screening funds is “blatantly false” and has prepared a response ad featuring his mom, who has cancer.

Yet the campaign of Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is standing by its commercial, saying Rehberg initially voted for budget cuts that would have led to the closure of a Kalispell clinic that gives health exams to women – including the Whitefish woman featured in the ad.

“The fact of the matter is, the congressman is on record of voting against some very important things for Montana,” Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy said Monday. “It’s an irresponsible vote, and we’re holding him accountable for this vote.”

Rehberg is trying to unseat Tester, who is running for re-election to the Senate. The high-profile race is one of the most-watched U.S. Senate contests in the country.

Tester’s campaign ad, which began airing last week, features Lisa Jones of Whitefish, who said she discovered she had cancer after being examined at the Flathead Community Health Clinic in Kalispell.

The ad raps Rehberg for his February 2011 vote for a House Republican budget resolution that proposed eliminating federal funds for family planning and women’s health services in the fiscal 2011 budget, and cutting funds for community health centers, including Kalispell’s clinic. An April 2011 compromise measure restored most of those funds for fiscal 2011, but Rehberg voted against it.

Jones also says in the ad that Rehberg voted to “eliminate funding for breast cancer screenings” – a charge Rehberg campaign spokesman Chris Bond called “just blatantly dishonest and misleading.”

Rehberg has supported federal funds for breast cancer screening, and the cuts in HR1 did not eliminate those funds, he said.

Bond noted that Rehberg voted for the final federal 2012 budget, which included the family planning and clinic funds.

Wendy Doely, executive director of the Flathead Community Health Clinic, also said Monday that Rehberg, Tester and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., all worked to restore funding for the community health centers in the 2012 budget.

Rehberg’s campaign fired back at Tester this week with a new TV ad featuring his mother, Pat, who has had breast cancer and thyroid cancer.

Pat Rehberg says her son “understands what cancer does to everyone it touches,” and that Tester is “playing politics with a deadly disease.”

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