Rick Hill was so far behind in the polls last winter that his two Republican primary opponents said Hill wasn't even a contender for Montana's one seat in the House of Representatives.
So Hill tried something. He went
He attacked his Republican opponents,
who both complained he was being nasty and unfair when he called
them tax-and-spend liberals in bad disguises.
the strategy worked. Hill rallied in the final weeks of the
campaign and won the primary with 44 percent of the vote, eight
points more than his closest opponent.
a wealthy Helena businessman, faces Democrat Bill Yellowtail, a
Crow Indian rancher from Wyola who gave up a $120,000-a-year job as
the Environmental Protection Agency's top man in the Rocky Mountain
region in order to run for Congress.
polls over the summer said Yellowtail had a slight lead. He is the
more obvious successor to the popular Pat Williams, a Democrat who
represented the district for the past 18 years. Williams was hugely
popular with Native Americans; his efforts on their behalf ranged
from helping Indian colleges get land-grant status to changing the
name of the Custer Battlefield to the Little Big Horn Battlefield.
He was well-liked by environmentalists, and his pro-union stance
also won him the mining vote.
endorsed Yellowtail. But if Hill continues to trail in the race,
the campaign could get nasty, observers
Hill, 49, has shown an aptitude for negative
campaigning and Yellowtail, 48, has a past that would make such
tactics easy; it includes burglary, spouse abuse and several years
as a deadbeat dad. As a student at Dartmouth College almost 30
years ago, he burglarized a camera store, was convicted and
subsequently thrown out of school. Then, in the 1970s, he once
struck his wife in the face so hard he had to take her to the
By 1986 the couple had been long since
divorced and Yellowtail had become a state senator. But he had
fallen $7,200 behind in his $100 monthly child support payments and
his ex-wife had to garnish his Senate wages to get it from
Yellowtail points out that all these things
happened many years ago. The governor of New Hampshire pardoned
him, and Dartmouth readmitted him and let him graduate. His ex-wife
and his daughter both actively support his
The people most directly harmed by his
actions have forgiven him; Yellowtail says voters should do the
So far, Democrats have done so in droves.
Despite a late entry into the race and headlines blaring his past
sins, he took 56 percent of the primary vote, more than all three
of his opponents combined.
Few people believe
Republicans will be so magnanimous.
expect them to run ads saying they forgive him," said Larry Jent,
one of the people Yellowtail beat in the
It would be hard to find two candidates
with less similarity in issues, style and
Hill is short and pugnacious. A
champion 115-pound high school wrestler in his native Minnesota, he
remains a high-energy scrapper in his party's conservative wing. He
strongly opposes abortion, is a fiscal conservative, touts family
values despite his own long and acrimonious divorce, and says he
wants to unshackle America's entrepreneurs from the twin burdens of
taxation and regulation.
said, believe "mankind is the cause" of problems. But they're
wrong. "We're the ones that put value on nature."
The emphasis of politics should be on the
economy, he maintains.
"When you lower taxes, the
economy does better," he said. "Government regulation is like
friction on the economy. It costs money."
Yellowtail is tall, slow-moving and quick to
laugh - he once introduced a bill to designate the magpie as
Montana's state bird.
He favors some gun control
and wants wilderness and water protected. He wants family farms
supported, talks a lot about sustainable communities and dismisses
Hill's economic plans as "that tired old trickle-down theory." He
strongly supports education and earned high marks from
environmentalists and from liberal women's groups while in the
Women voters could play a critical
role in the election. Montana has only about 560,000 registered
voters, a little more than half of them women. Traditionally, both
parties can count on about 40 percent of the vote. That leaves
110,000 independent or "swing" voters, half of whom are
The child support and spouse abuse
incidents could be major deciding factors for some of those
Yellowtail said he's confident he can win
"I don't ask them to excuse these
egregious mistakes," Yellowtail said. "I have talked to lots and
lots of women, and in view of my baggage, have walked away with
lots of support. They (women voters) have shown me they're looking
forward, not backward."
McMillion reports from Livingston, Montana.