TALK ABOUT STRETCHING THE MAP…. In June, shortly after securing the Democratic nomination, the Obama campaign began airing television ads in 14 “red” states, a group which included Montana. It seemed like an odd choice — Bush beat Kerry in Montana by more than 20 points four years ago, and Bush beat Gore in the state by 25 points eight years ago. Did the Obama campaign know something we don’t?

Actually, yes. A Rasmussen poll in July showed Obama with a narrow lead in Montana, and last week, an MSU-Billings poll showed Obama leading McCain by four, 44% to 40%.

With a week to go, the RNC has decided this is a state worth worrying about.

The Republican National Committee will begin running television ads in Montana beginning on Wednesday, a sign of how heavily the playing field is tilted against the GOP with just eight days left in the presidential election.

Obama has already spent about $2 million in the state, while the RNC’s ad buy, which is a negative spot attacking Obama, will cost about $400,000.

Montana certainly seems like an unexpected addition to the list of swing states, but it’s not as if Democrats are invisible there — Montana does, after all have a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators. What’s more, Bill Clinton won the state in 1992, thanks to a very strong showing from Ross Perot — and Ron Paul is on the ballot in Montana this year (as the Constitution Party’s “nominee”).

In the broader context, though, there are probably quite a few vulnerable Republican senators who are wondering why the RNC would rather invest nearly a half-million in Montana on McCain’s behalf, as opposed to giving them a much-needed hand in the last week.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.