HELENA — Former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill appears well-positioned financially to hold off a half-dozen other Republican hopefuls for Montana governor in the final run-up to the party's June 5 primary.
But the competition remains confident, particularly two former state senators who have been able to compile meaningful amounts of money as well.
Hill announced his candidacy more than a year ago with plenty of institutional support — although that didn't stop six other Republicans from also pursuing the office.
Hill does have a definite cash advantage heading into the stretch run, with about $300,000 in hand to spread his message— an amount built without relying on personal funds. His campaign points out that Hill and running mate Jon Sonju have raised more from individual contributors than all of the other GOP entrants combined.
"It shows that Republicans of all stripes are coalescing behind Rick and Jon as we head into the final months of this primary campaign," said Hill campaign spokesman Brock Lowrance. "Past performance is the best indicator of future performance and Rick is the only Republican candidate who is not only a proven conservative and tested leader, but he has shown he can win a statewide contest and build the resources necessary to do so."
Billings financial adviser and former state senator Corey Stapleton has about $160,000 in the bank, and has relied on donations and loans from himself to the tune of about $70,000. But he says the financial gap is not so large with Hill, and believes there are a large number of undecided Republican voters to convince in the coming weeks.
Stapleton hopes to reach the "thinking man, and the thinking woman" who will take a close look at the candidates.
"I have made the case as a young guy in this race it is time for new ideas and fresh blood," said Stapleton, 44. "I think we compete. And we compete for all the people who consider themselves Republican."
Ken Miller, who closed his furniture store to run a full-time campaign, reports about $80,000 on hand, a total that includes more than $40,000 in loans and cash he has personally funneled into the campaign.
But Miller, who is angling hard for support from ardent social conservatives and tea party activists, believes he boasts a stronger cadre of volunteers. Miller brought in about $20,000 in individual donations over the past month, compared to Hill's $31,000.
"We don't believe that any of the candidates with or without money can catch up to us. We are feeling very confident," said Miller.
This is Miller's second run at governor. He lost the GOP primary in 2004, which Bob Brown won with far more financial backing.
Miller said he will be airing advertisements over the stretch run, a key ingredient to increasing name identification among casual voters — especially in such a crowded election. He argues that Hill is not really raising that much money for a former congressman.
"We have, and will have, enough money to win the race," Miller said.
Whoever wins the GOP primary will face a Democratic candidate who has been building a general election campaign war chest with no meaningful primary opposition. Bullock reported holding more than $500,000 in the bank in campaign reports filed Tuesday.