Democrat Kim Gillan, who's running for Montana's open U.S. House seat, says her Republican opponent Steve Daines is little more than a conservative ideologue, whose dogmatic approach to the nation's problems will just lead to more gridlock in Congress.
"The solutions he's offering ... they're not Montana solutions, they're just part of a national Republican playbook," she says. "He's going to be part of the problem in Washington, D.C."
Daines, a former business executive from Bozeman, believes he's more in line with Montanans' view on the role of government, which he says should be scaled back to reduce the national debt and let the private sector flourish, creating more jobs.
"I believe we need ways to make our federal government more efficient and reduce spending," he says. "I support a balanced-budget amendment, and my opponent does not. ... [A]nd I believe we should repeal 'Obamacare.'"
In what's been a low-key campaign for Montana's only House seat so far, the two main candidates are starting to cut loose, sharpening their rhetoric and drawing contrasts between themselves.
The contest among Gillan, a state senator from Billings, Daines and Libertarian Dave Kaiser of Victor has been largely overshadowed by Montana's big-money U.S. Senate race and the battle for an open governor's seat.
A Montana Lee Newspapers poll three weeks ago showed that half of Montana voters hadn't heard of Gillan, and almost one-third didn't know Daines either.
The same poll showed Daines with an eight-point lead, 46 percent to 38 percent, but 14 percent were undecided. Gillan claims that her own polls show a tighter race, although Daines has had a clear financial advantage, with $850,000 in campaign funds compared to Gillan's $88,000 earlier this summer.
However the candidates choose to characterize each other, they have clear differences on most of the major issues facing the nation.
Daines says the federal debt can be erased without raising taxes on the wealthy, or anyone, by cutting back on regulations that hurt business, thus jump-starting the economy and creating more growth and tax revenue.
He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," and would consider a revamp of Medicare that includes vouchers for those currently under 55, letting people choose to buy private health insurance, with help from the government.
Daines also is solidly anti-abortion, thinks the 1972 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion should be overturned, and wants to stop federal women's health funds from going to Planned Parenthood, because it's the nation's largest abortion provider.
Gillan says taxes on the wealthy and other "revenue enhancers" should be part of paying down the federal debt, favors abortion rights for women, and opposes any voucher plan for Medicare. She generally supports the healthcare reform law of 2010.
They also have starkly different views of each other.
Gillan, a workforce development coordinator at Montana State University-Billings, says she's a centrist who has worked with both sides of the political aisle in the Montana Legislature, to pass things like worker-training programs and a health-insurance mandate to cover autism.
"I've been in the minority (at the Legislature) in most sessions," she says. "I listen to people on diverse sides and figure out how we can solve (the problem)."
She says Daines has a simplistic, partisan view of the world and says government is always the enemy -- while his own former company, RightNow Technologies, has landed substantial government contracts.
Daines, a vice president at the software development firm for 12 years, says Gillan is hardly a centrist, and often lines up with the liberal wing of her party. He notes that the Montana Chamber of Commerce, a business lobby, said she agreed with its position on key bills only 31 percent of the time at the 2011 Legislature. For the chamber ranking, she was in the middle of the pack of the Senate's 22 Democrats.
He also says he won't be shy about going against Republican Party leadership when it's in Montana's interest, such as pushing them to approve a federal Farm Bill.
"I'm a chemical engineer," Daines says. "Engineers are trained to be problem-solvers. They look at data and make conclusions, not based on ideology, but based on getting results."
Daines says his experience as a business executive sets him apart, because he knows what policies in Washington, D.C., will "move us forward in creating high-paying jobs, and what type of policies move us backward."
"There is a fundamental difference between my view of the role of the federal government and how we grow this economy, versus my opponent's view," he says.
And those government contracts? Daines says they saved the government money and were only 9 percent of company revenue, and that RightNow fairly competed for and won the contracts.
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