HELENA – Candidates in the state’s most high-profile election contest – the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Denny Rehberg – have scheduled their first public debate, and are talking about several more.
Sen. Tester, Rep. Rehberg and Libertarian Dan Cox are scheduled to debate next Saturday in Big Sky, at the Montana Newspapers Association’s annual convention.
They’re also on tap for another debate June 24 in Whitefish at the Montana Broadcasters Association convention, but final details have yet to be worked out.
Tester and Rehberg are proposing several other debates in the contest, but haven’t agreed on the details.
The two major-party nominees in the race for Montana’s open U.S. House seat – Democrat Kim Gillan and Republican Steve Daines – also are discussing debate plans.
Daines sent Gillan a letter Wednesday congratulating her on her primary victory Tuesday and proposing debates in Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell and Bozeman. He also suggested specific subjects for each site, such as “Flathead County’s sustained double-digit unemployment rate” at the Kalispell debate.
Gillan, a state senator from Billings, thanked Daines for the offer and said Friday she’d be in touch with his campaign, and that she looked forward to a series of debates.
“This is what Montanans want,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity to hear directly from the candidates.“
Gillan won the seven-person Democratic primary on Tuesday and Daines, a Bozeman business executive, won a three-way Republican primary. Libertarian David Kaiser of Victor also is in the race. They’re running for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rehberg.
The Tester-Rehberg matchup is considered one of the top U.S. Senate races in the country, with the winner possibly determining party control of the Senate.
Tester, running for a second term, proposed additional debates in Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Billings, Missoula and Bozeman, in September and October. He said sponsors in each community have extended invitations for the debates.
Rehberg’s campaign called the proposal a “starting point for working out a debate schedule,” and noted that Tester’s proposal didn’t include sites in northwestern Montana or far eastern Montana.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.