A third candidate with a chance of pulling off an upset is making his second run for governor. Former state Sen. Ken Miller
finished third in the GOP primary in 2004, earning 20 percent of primary votes. Miller, who has courted tea party support during the primary campaign, entered the race with a small but passionate following thanks to his previous run. But Miller's campaign hasn't caught fire with grassroots activists, and his most high-profile national conservative supporter is Sharron Angle
, the controversial tea party candidate who lost the 2010 Nevada Senate race to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Miller has been plagued by ethical questions during the primary. The state's political practices commissioner announced on Friday that Miller had violated campaign finance rules
, and the Yellowstone County attorney's office now has 30 days to decide whether to pursue civil penalties against his campaign.
Hill has his own ethics problems. The Associated Press on Friday reported that Hill once benefitted
on real estate deals from his wife's job in former GOP Gov. Judy Martz
's office. The report seemed to confirm one of the lines of attacks opened by Stapleton in his negative television spot. If Hill wins the Republican nomination Tuesday, Democrats likely will use this accusation to their advantage in the fall.
Democrats also will highlight Hill's time in Washington and point to his work as a lobbyist since leaving office. They will paint Hill as a relic of the past, while pitching Bullock -- and his respected record as Attorney General -- as the candidate of the future. Bullock also has the full-throated support of Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer
, who remains popular in the state after more than 7 years in office.
But Republicans have their own advantages as the calendar heads for the fall. They will attempt to nationalize the race, linking Bullock to President Obama
, who will likely lose Montana by double digits in his reelection fight. State Republicans have already started
pointing out that Bullock did not join other state attorneys general -- all of whom were Republicans -- in a suit against the federal government over Obama's health care law.
While Bullock, who has a significant cash advantage over Hill and the other Republicans, remains the frontrunner at the onset of the general election campaign, the early attacks over the health care lawsuit serve as a reminder for the Democrat: Running in a red state during a presidential year, Bullock has his work cut out for him, no matter how strong of a candidate he might be.