First on CNN: House Dems expand map as super PAC targets Montana

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  • Democrats haven't won a US House seat in Montana in 20 years
  • Trump's unpredictable campaign has expanded the map

(CNN)Democrats haven't won a race for a US House seat in the solidly red state of Montana in more than 20 years. But a Democratic super PAC is investing nearly half a million dollars to try to knock off the Republican incumbent who holds the state's single seat, another sign that Donald Trump's unpredictable campaign has expanded the map in the battle for control of the House of Representatives.

House Majority PAC unveiled a television spot Tuesday that criticizes Montana Republican Ryan Zinke's first-term record, maintaining that he has spent his time elevating his own profile rather than focusing on issues voters in the state care about.
Republicans are concerned enough about the race tightening that they are bringing in the top GOP leader -- House Speaker Paul Ryan will headline a rally Sunday with Zinke in Billings. An aide close to Ryan confirms the speaker will travel to Montana for the event, as part of a swing to western congressional districts.
    Zinke is a retired Navy SEAL who has appeared regularly on cable news programs to discuss national security issues.
    The tag line in the commercial targeting the Republican features the announcer saying "Ryan Zinke -- too in love with himself to think about Montana."
    The group, which is spending millions on races to boost House Democratic incumbents and challengers, says the new buy cost nearly $500,000 to place the ad in broadcast and cable markets for the final two weeks of the election in four major media markets around the state.
    "Montanans are tired of Zinke's constant self-promotion and bluster, and they're more than ready for a representative who will finally put their needs first," House Majority PAC Communications director Jeb Fain told CNN in a statement.
    Denise Juneau, the state school superintendent who is challenging Zinke, has won previous statewide campaigns so she has some name recognition. She is a member of the Democratic National Campaign Committee's so-called "red to blue" program, which puts resources and attention on those recruits it believes can defeat GOP incumbents.
    Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke, said Juneau was practicing "dirty" politics.
    "Denise Juneau looked voters in the eyes and promised Montana that her first piece of legislation if she's elected would be getting rid of funding from super PACs," Swift said in a statement. "And now, Juneau is accepting nearly half a million dollars from an outside group in Washington, DC, headed by somebody from California. This is exactly the kind of dirty, dishonest politics that Montanans are sick and tired of. If Juneau had a shred of integrity, she would reject the dark money and tell them to stay home."
    President Barack Obama lost Montana in the last two presidential elections, but Democrats have done well in other statewide contests. In 2012, Jon Tester won a close US Senate re-race and Steve Bullock was elected governor. But the last time a Democrat from Montana held a House seat was in 1997.
    Zinke has told associates that he believes Tester and Montana Democrats are trying to oust him this year in an effort to deny him the chance to challenge Tester's Senate re-election in 2018.
    Most political analysts agree that House Democrats are positioned to make double-digit gains on November 8, but are skeptical that they can pick up the 30 seats they would need to regain the majority in the lower chamber unless Hillary Clinton beats Trump by a wide margin.
    But if they are able to pick up this normally red seat it's an indication the Trump effect on down-ballot races reaches into places where the party hasn't been competitive for decades.