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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Next Up: Montana’s At-Large House Seat

Montana’s at-large congressional district is actually a pretty big electoral prize. It is the most populous district in the nation with more than one million constituents, and it is second only to Alaska’s at-large district in square mileage.

The last time a Democrat held the seat was from 1993-97, when Pat Williams repped the at-large district, which is the same thing as serving the entire state. Since then Republicans have held the seat, including Ryan Zinke, who was re-elected in November, but who has now been appointed Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. A special election to fill the seat is slated for May 25th.

Democrats have nominated a candidate to fill the seat who is generating a lot of excitement, singer-songwriter Rob Quist, a single-payer, pro-choice progressive who suppported Sen. Bernie Sanders for president. Quist has solid Montana bonafides, having been born and raised in a ranching family in the state, and he has traveled and worked all across Montana.

If GA-6 is emblematic of southern suburban congressional districts, Montana’s at-large seat could serve as a pretty good example of a Mountain West district Democrats can realistically hope to win back from Republicans. And like Ossoff in Georgia, Quist is an appealing candidate, perhaps even more so for progressives.

But Quist may not have the same fund-raising draw as Ossoff, even though he is going to need dough, lots of it, to take his progressive message all across Montana and compete with his software billionaire Republican opponent. Democrats and progressives who want to help Quist should check out his ActBlue web page.

Although Montana elected both Trump and Zinke in November, it does have a venerable tradition of electing Democrats, including America’s longest-serving Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, who ran the U.S. Senate from 1961 to 1977, as well as the current Governor Steve Bullock and U.S. Senator Jon Tester.

In his New York Times article, “After Georgia’s Close Race, Montana Democrats Demand Party’s Attention,” Jonathan Martin writes about concerns that Democrats could blow an opportunity for a needed pick-up:

“National folks should be coming in here,” Governor Bullock said. “It is a winnable race.”

Mr. Bullock should know. His re-election last year, by four percentage points against the Republican Greg Gianforte, was the fourth consecutive gubernatorial race that Democrats have won in Big Sky country. The state has also not sent two Republican senators to Washington at the same time since the Constitution was amended to require the popular election of senators.

…He’s running against Mr. Gianforte, who was just beaten statewide. Mr. Gianforte and three Washington-based conservative organizations have spent more than $1.4 million on television and radio since February, much of it attacking Mr. Quist.

Democratic officials, contributors and activists in Montana, which Mr. Sanders carried in the presidential primary, are clearly agitated over their Washington-based party. They say the top-down leadership never misses an opportunity to play it safe…Echoing the demands that progressives made just over a decade ago when another Republican president ignited the liberal rank-and-file, Montana Democrats express irritation that they must persuade their party to contest red-tinged seats.

…Some Democrats here complain that no money has been spent focusing attention on the same issues that sank Mr. Gianforte’s run for governor last year, like his lawsuit to stop access to a river near his Bozeman home. Access to public lands is a perennial hot-button issue in vast Western states, particularly in pristine Montana.

There is also a Libertarian candidate on the ballott, which could help Quist — if Democratic strategists do what they can to drive  a wedge in between Montana’s conservative voters.

The Montana at-large congressional race may not get the media coverage of the GA-6 contest. But for Democrats, every House seat pick-up is equal when they are tallied to determine majority control and elect leaders. This is one of the best bets Democrats have for a pick-up, and it would be a shame to blow it.

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