Fact-checking the Montana Senate race between Bullock, Daines
Last updated 10/30/2020 at 2:29pm
IF YOUR TIME IS SHORT
-- The Montana Senate race will help determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate.
-- Republican groups have attacked Bullock over his support of a public option healthcare plan and criticized his actions after a former aide was accused of sexual harassment.
-- Democratic groups have attacked Daines for giving tax cuts to big drug companies and corporations.
Montana Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican and close ally of President Donald Trump, was supposed to coast to re-election in a state that voted resoundingly for Trump in 2016.
But Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s late entry into the Senate race turned a safe red seat competitive. Bullock, who was ranked the most popular Democratic governor in the nation, won re-election in Montana on the same 2016 ticket Hillary Clinton lost by more than 20 points.
The outcome of the Montana Senate race will help determine which party controls the Senate, and it is considered a toss-up by the Cook Political Report. It’s one of 18 pivotal House and Senate contests up for election Nov. 3 that PolitiFact is fact-checking.
With the stakes so high, outside interest groups are pouring money and attack ads into Montana.
Republican groups blasted Bullock for supporting a public option health plan and criticized his actions after aa former aide was accused of sexual harassment.
Democratic groups have attacked Daines for giving tax breaks to big corporations and siding with drug companies over average Montanans.
Here’s a look at our fact-checks of claims by outside groups seeking to influence the race:
GOP group attacks Bullock over health care plan
The National Republican Senatorial Committee claimed in an ad that "Steve Bullock’s health care plan will force rural hospitals to close. Medicare as we know it will change, replaced by a government-run program with fewer doctors and longer wait times." The NRSC was referring to Bullock’s support for a public option health plan.
We rated the claim False.
As evidence that Bullock’s plan would close rural hospitals, the NRSC provided an industry-funded study based on broad assumptions that don’t accurately reflect positions outlined on Bullock's website. For example, the study assumes that hospitals would continue to be paid at Medicare rates. But Bullock supports a public option plan that would include higher reimbursements for rural hospitals.
The second part of the ad asserted that a public option would lead to a "government-run program" like Medicare For All, the single-payer plan supported by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Health care scholars disagreed with this claim, saying that it’s too big of a leap to say Bullock’s plan would trigger this outcome.
GOP group attacks Bullock over aide
The NRSC also claimed that Steve Bullock "failed to act" when his "most senior political aide was caught sexually harassing women. Bullock knew about the harassment but said nothing, remaining silent when the aide took another job where he harassed women again."
We rated that Half True.
Kevin O’Brien, a former aide to Bullock, was fired from the Democratic Governors Association, which Bullock chaired, for sexually harassing a coworker. O’Brien later went to work from the New York City mayor’s office where he was fired for harassing two more women.
It’s not accurate to say Bullock didn’t act. He claims that when he heard about the harassment, he immediately decided to fire O’Brien from the DGA. But Bullock has admitted that he didn’t tell the mayor’s office why O’Brien was terminated and apologized publicly for failing to do so.
Democratic nonprofit attacks Daines
Duty and Honor, a nonprofit affiliated with the Democratic-backed Senate Majority PAC, claimed that Daines "voted to give billions in tax breaks to big drug companies even as they raised prices."
We rated that Half True.
The ad was referencing Daines’s vote for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which lowered tax rates and provided billions in tax relief to powerful drug companies. However, the ad left out the context that the law did not single out those companies in particular. Rather, it reduced taxes for the vast majority of Americans, small businesses, and the corporate sector.
As a senator, Daines has also voted for bills that seek to reduce prescription drug prices.
Morning Consult, Here Are America’s Least (and Most) Popular Governors, No date
The New York Times, Montana Election Results, Aug. 1, 2017
PolitiFact, GOP group says Steve Bullock failed to act after aide was fired for sexual harassment, Oct. 15, 2020
PolitiFact, GOP Senate ad misrepresents Montana governor’s stance on rural hospitals, public option, Aug. 17, 2020
PolitiFact, Misleading ad in Montana Senate race casts Steve Daines as soft on drug companies, Aug. 25, 2020