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Published on January 22nd, 2017 | by Z Train

The Montana Mint’s Completely Subjective Zinke Replacement Power Rankings

The upcoming (perhaps faster than we think) special election for Montana’s at-large House seat has brought pretenders to the throne out of the woodwork.  Something about avoiding the miserable year-plus long primary and general election is refreshing.  The Montana Mint’s Completely Subjective Power Ranking Committee will be gauging the state of the race, based mostly upon unsupported opinions, squishy feelings, and bald conjecture.  Because that’s how elections actually work!  


  1. Greg Gianforte:  Yes, yes, yes, Greg hasn’t announced, but a letter signed by a majority of convention-goers doesn’t just materialize. The Completely Subjective Power Ranking Committee bets Gianforte spent Christmas break working some phones when he wasn’t shoving venison into a chest freezer.  And Daniel Zolnikov, a state legislator young gun out of Billings that entertained a Congress shot for a hot second, just endorsed Greg.  Plus, he presumably has more millions he can plop down to buy ad time in a frighteningly short special election, which is going to favor candidates with high name recognition and the ability to self-fund to get on the air quickly.  Greg’s got both of those things.  Do it Greg, do it – everyone knows you want to.
  1. Scott Sales:  This is simply because the guy’s announced and is going to be in the paper a bunch with the session.  If someone below Sales officially jumps in, the Committee says he gets bumped, but early announcers get credit for taking the plunge.  For now.
  1. Matt Rosendale:  He just won statewide.  Which is strange, considering he wants to leave that job before it starts.  But he did just win.
  1. Jeff Essman/Brad Johnson/Austin Knudsen/Ken Miller:  All four seem to be run-of-the-mill candidates within the GOP.  Knudsen might get a plus for being a young gun, but that dress code fight was dumb.   Plus, once you go beyond these guys into the ranks of state legislators not in leadership positions, there’s not much name recognition.
  1. Ed Buttrey/Judge Fagg/Travis Kavulla: All folks (men) with some public service experience.  All folks (men) without much statewide or leadership experience.  Miller could be in this group, but he’s at least announced and is getting some press.  Maybe not for the right reasons, but press nonetheless.
  1. Eugene Graf: Hey, he’s announced, but the Committee sees this more as a testing-the-waters bid, especially with such a short special election to introduce yourself to the voters.
  1. AshLee Strong: She has a plum job in DC, and the Committee imagines she will remain there for the near future. The Committee also has zero idea how being tied to Speaker Ryan will play in MT.  But it’ll help with $$$.  Color us intrigued regarding Ms. Strong’s future.

N/A.  Richard Spencer: Just NA, dude.


  1.  Rob Quist:  He’s famous, he’s been endorsed by Brian “Big Dog” Schweitzer, and he’s impressed party nominating convention delegates with his combination of real life experiences, folksy charm, and command of the issues.  Special elections are strange beasts.  California elected the Terminator in one. This time, the nominee will get about three months to barnstorm the Big Sky, making preexisting name recognition a huge plus.  Quist has it, and he’s going to have Schweitzer (presumably) out there stumping with him.  The Completely Subjective Power Ranking Committee loves that combo—it’s got folksy outsider swagger written all over it and will draw headlines and eyeballs wherever it goes.  Some may balk at Quist’s age (69 years this month), but the Dems have spent a couple decades in the congressional wilderness with regards to this seat.  Their hunger could drive them to overlook that.  We say it should. The Committee approves of Quist’s both-guns-blazing style.
  2. Amanda Curtis:  She’s announced, she’s run (an abbreviated) campaign for U.S. Senate, she’s social media savvy, and she’s got experience working a special election nominative convention, and winning.  While she did lose to Daines by 17.9 points, she started that race with 80 days to go, no infrastructure, and no money.  The Completely Subjective Committee would like to see what she does in a statewide outside of a special election, with the yearlong ground game and fundraising grind that comes with it, but the Committee is betting her previous experience with a short statewide race would be handy, and it gives her a leg up on name recognition.  Curtis bested the competition once at a nominating convention, but that was against only one opponent, Dirk Adams, and Mr. Adams had an interesting background, to put it mildly.
  3. Zeno Baucus: He hasn’t announced, and he’s never run for office, but Zeno would step in as a serious contender.  He’s clearly got the name recognition down – the Completely Subjective Committee imagines that the cadre of former Baucus staffers (is there a nickname for these folks?  Raucus Baucus Caucus?) sprinkled throughout the country and state (with oodles of Montana statewide campaign experience) might be a nice resource he could tap into. He would, presumably, have access to the nationwide fundraising network that his father built.  What appetite does Montana have for a political dynasty in these most iconoclastic, contrary times?  Who knows?  He may not be able to amble across the state in 100 days, but Zeno’s got the pedigree and the resume as a federal prosecutor.  This might be a toe-dip in the campaign waters, but it’s an intriguing toe.  Some may object to ranking a newcomer so high, and the Committee is aware of grumbling that Baucus the Younger is an unknown quantity to state Dems.  We hear that, but the Committee believes that, due to his access to resources and name recognition, Zeno’s real, and he’s spectacular.
  4. Jenny Eck/Kelly McCarthy/Andrew Person:  All these folks are members of the state legislature, and all are relatively young, and some (Eck) have leadership experience, while McCarthy is from the all-important Yellowstone County and is a veteran (as Person is as well).  McCarthy gets a boost for having announced, but the Committee remains skeptical of the ability of a local legislator to mount a successful special election campaign against what appears will be a self-funding behemoth that just lost a statewide by a measly 20k votes.
  5. Jesse Laslovich/Monica Lindeen:  Neither have announced, and the Committee doesn’t really anticipate an announcement.  Still, both have run statewide races, and Lindeen’s won a few.  Until we get more from either, however, their Completely Subjective Power Ranking won’t come any higher.
  6. John Meyer:  He’s a Bozeman environmental lawyer, and that’s about all we’ve got, other than the fact that he’s announced.  While the Completely Subjective Committee doesn’t fault him for his career of litigation on behalf of the environment (we live in the environment and enjoy it on weekends), if we put our cynical GOP oppo research hats on (they are fedoras with feathers), it’s really easy to write ads about suing to stop jobs and development in the state.  That’s tough to overcome with no previous experience or name recognition in a special election, though we’re sure several will confuse him with singer John Mayer, previously seen skulking around Livingston.

6b. John Mayer: He wrote an album called Montana and has a house in Paradise Valley. (Just kidding, please don’t run John.)

?.   Denise Juneau:  The Completely Subjective Committee’s favorite parlor game is guessing whether Denise Juneau will enter the race.  Folks are apparently trying to get Juneau ensconced in Main Hall at UM, and there hasn’t been any clear indication one way or the other that she will enter the race.  The Committee thinks she’d skyrocket to the top of the power rankings if she did, but the lack of any indication one way or the other leaves Juneau in some unrankable limbo.  

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Cover photo courtesy of Liz Swezey on Flickr

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