It's perhaps not accurate to call a series of two events a pattern -- a trend perhaps?
Not long ago, the state Democratic party manufactured a "scandal" involving one of Denny Rehberg's staffers (proven to be completely groundless.) They just happened to time their press-release for same day when news came out that the Montana Democratic Party was being socked with a hefty fine by the F.E.C. for campaign-finance violations during the Burns-Tester U.S. Senate race.
Today, dueling headlines in the Gazette indicate something similar at work. The state Republican party had been raising questions about the governor's recent junket to the Kentucky Derby for a Democratic fundraiser, and yesterday they filed a formal complaint with Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth.
The process had been in the works for several weeks, and it is interesting that the Democratic party just happened to file a complaint against Republican business executive Steve Daines of "GiveItBack.com" fame on the same day as the Republican complaint was filed. Their timing is uncanny.
Some might consider the Republican complaint to be picky. After all, by this point Montanans are hardly going to be surprised to learn that our governor jetted to a big-wig event outside Montana to raise moolah. We now yawn when we hear he's going to be in California in some TV studio or another.
Even if the Kentucky Derby trip turns out to be technically illegal (which it perhaps is, if one follows the details of Montana law and the logic the Republicans are advancing,) in order for there to be political gain for Republicans, Montanans would have to be shocked. And news that the governor was sipping mint julips on the dime of an organization that takes corporate contributions isn't going to shock many Montanans -- unless they've already decided that they don't much care for the governor's style.
But if the Republican complaint can be faulted for being technically valid but perhaps politically useless -- the Democratic complaint is merely laughable. Exactly how is Commissioner Unsworth going to be expected to find Daines guilty of running his website as a "'phony front group' for a possible gubernatorial campaign" if Daines hasn't declared that he is running for governor? And even if Daines ends up running for governor, how is anyone going to prove that he had decided for certain to run for governor at the time he started the "GiveItBack" campaign?
The Democratic complaint is frivolous, and Unsworth said as much immediately -- whereas the Republican complaint is going to take some investigation, even though an outcome in the Republicans' favor is by no means certain. It is hard to see the Daines complaint and its timing as being anything but a calculated distraction on the part of the state Democratic party.
There are a couple more observations worth making about Democratic hyperventilation over Steve Daines and his unsuccessful public service campaign to try to get more money rebated to Montana taxpayers.
The first observation is that for some reason that we can't figure out, Daines has Democrats worried. Why would the governor have appeared recently with a sign behind him saying "We Gave It Back?"
Everyone knows good and well that the surplus wasn't given back -- and Democrats are proud of the fact that they spent nearly all that money on "essential services" rather than giving it back in tax credits or cuts. For them, it was a major political victory won by a no-compromise stance that the money wasn't given back -- a victory they should be proud of. So why the sign saying "We Gave It Back?"
The second observation is that the Democratic hyperventilation about Daines has seemed eerily familiar to Montana Headlines. It was difficult to put a finger on it, but then it all became clear: it reminded us of Republican reactions to a certain mint farmer some years back -- a guy with no political experience and who used non-traditional means of getting headlines. Republicans could never make any of their accusations or ridicule stick, and their attempts to do so were, if anything, counterproductive. We all know how the story ends.
So in that sense, the fact that Democrats are frantically going after Daines -- with nothing -- may perhaps bode well for the Republican party's prospects in the 2008 elections.