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Daines, Bullock ads: Competing visions of patriotism
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Daines, Bullock ads: Competing visions of patriotism

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New ads from the campaigns of U.S. Senate rivals Steve Daines and Steve Bullock offer competing visions of patriotism, with Daines’ ad featuring Butte native and purported Osama Bin Laden killer Rob O’Neill, and Bullock’s on his work as governor to help fund a veterans’ home in Butte.

The ad from the re-election campaign of Republican U.S. Sen. Daines went up Friday, the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Bin Laden was the mastermind behind the attacks, and former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, ordered the raid on the compound that led to the Al Qaeda leader's death.

In the campaign ad for Daines, first posted by the conservative Daily Caller site, O’Neill says, “The last thing Osama Bin Laden saw was the American flag on my shoulder. Right now the far left wants to burn that flag,” as images of violent outbursts during protests are shown.

“They loot our cities. They assault our police officers,” O’Neill says, repeating a theme sounded by President Donald Trump and other Republicans. He touts Daines as an example of the sort of “leaders in Washington with the values to keep this country great.”

The Bullock campaign’s ad shows veterans thanking the two-term Democratic governor for his role in obtaining needed state money for a 60-bed veterans' home in Butte, now under construction. It points out, correctly, that Daines voted against the $1.3 billion omnibus spending bill in 2018 that authorized federal funding for the home.

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, the ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee who helped secure money for the home, voted for the bill; Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, a Republican, voted against it.

In Bullock’s ad about the veterans’ center, titled "Thank you," Navy veteran Spencer Keck says of Daines that “when it came time to break ground, he was the first to run out there and get his picture taken.” As he speaks, the ad shows an image of Daines in a line of people wielding shovels during the groundbreaking for the veterans' home.

Mike Lawson of Butte, a decorated Marine veteran of two tours in Vietnam and a prominent member of several veterans organizations, said that all the veterans’ groups in the six counties served by the new center agreed that every member of Montana’s congressional delegation should attend the groundbreaking, no matter how they voted.

“This isn’t a political deal, this is a veterans’ deal,” Lawson recalled saying at the time. “It doesn’t matter what party you’re from, they are our representatives.”

Bullock's ad features soothing music and testimonials from several veterans, while the Daines ad begins with images of jubilant crowds celebrating the killing of Bin Laden, then segues into photos of demonstrators burning flags, smashing store windows and kicking people. It ends with Daines shooting a rifle.

In his 2016 memoir, the New York Times-bestselling “The Operator: Firing the Shots That Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior,” O’Neill described the raid 2011 that took down the Al Qaeda leader. O'Neill has faced criticism for claiming to be the member of the SEAL team ultimately responsible for Bin Laden's death.

Just last month, O’Neill was in the news for being banned from Delta Air Lines for refusing to wear a mask. He tweeted — and later deleted — a maskless selfie from a Delta flight, writing “I’m not a p-----." He later told Fox News he posted it as “a peaceful protest” to his Twitter followers.

In the years since the Bin Laden raid, O’Neill has struggled with alcohol issues, including a 2018 incident on a Nashville flight, and a DUI arrest in Butte, although that charge later was amended.

He acknowledged those issues in a 2017 speech in Butte, citing the city’s “culture of drinking,” adding, “Everybody screws up. When they do, they’ve got to stand up, own it, and learn from it.”

“O’Neill is an American hero,” Daines campaign spokesperson Julia Doyle said Friday.

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