Published on December 6th, 2017 | by Arch Stanton
Welcome Back to Hastag MTPOL!
Welcome to the 2018 Montana Primary Season and welcome back to Hashtag MTPOL! We know it’s still 2017, but we wanted to prep you for the political arguments you’re bound to have with your Uncle Clarence over Christmas.
Montana has two federal seats on the 2018 ballot. Everyone is vying for the chance to challenge incumbents Senator Jon Tester (D) and Congressman/Heavyweight Champion Greg Gianforte (R). Neither candidate is facing a serious challenge from their own party, but each have a crowded field of opponents from across the aisle. The primary is June 5, so we still have half a year (I know, election season gets longer every year) to learn about the candidates and make our decisions!
The Big Picture
Like many places across the country, Republicans cleaned up in Montana in 2016. Governor Steve Bullock emerged as the sole Democratic statewide elected official to remain unscathed. Donald Trump destroyed Hillary Clinton in Montana by over 20 points in the Presidential Election. However, we often see an electoral backlash against nascent presidents like Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” in 1994 and the Tea Party takeover in 2010. But if Montanans vote anything like the residents of Blaine, Hill or Roosevelt counties, Montana’s 2018 races could be difficult to prognosticate.
The Senate Race
Senator Jon Tester (D), Incumbent – Montana’s senior senator and recent viral video star Jon Tester is running for his third term. The flat-topped farmer from Big Sandy has arrived as an unlikely political powerhouse. He has knocked-off Montana Republican establishment mainstays including three-term Senator Conrad Burns in 2006 and five-term Congressman Denny Rehberg in 2012. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine anyone from the emerging field overcoming Big Jon, who boasts more than $6 million in his campaign war chest.
Nationally, Senate Republicans are defending far less seats – only nine Republican incumbents are facing elections compared with the daunting 25 seats the Democrats must defend. Republicans will have a comfortable fundraising advantage. But trouble is brewing in Alabama with alledged child-molestor and Trump-endorsed candidate Judge Roy Moore threatening to drag down Republicans on ballots across the country. As we saw in 2012 with the Todd Akin (R-MO) “legitimate rape” controversy, one bad apple can spoil the bunch, and even cost your party a Senate majority.
The House Race
Greg Gianforte (R), Incumbent – We will hear a lot about Congressman Greg Gianforte this cycle. Gianforte pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge for body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs the day before Montana’s special election in May. The altercation caused the Lee papers – the Billings Gazette, the Missoulian and the Helena Independent Record – to withdraw their endorsements a mere 24 hours before polls opened.
After his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2016 against incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock (D), Gianforte handily defeated Rob Quist (D) in the 2016 special election to replace Ryan Zinke (R), who vacated the seat to serve as the Secretary of the Interior. However, because of his wrestling ways, the Gallatin County resident and tech-millionaire could face tough competition in a race that would otherwise be an easy win for any Republican. Montana’s lone Congressional District has been reliably delivering for Republicans since Rick Hill defeated Democrat Pat Williams in 1996.
Coming soon, we’ll have profiles on all the primary candidates – from a bizarre husband/wife duo, to the candidates likely to mount serious campaigns.
The Montana Mint and Hashtag MTPOL are excited to be supporting a new Montana politics podcast, the Montana Middle. Hosted by former Democratic congressional candidate Dan West, the Montana Middle is designed for “people who are looking for a balanced take on politics in Montana” by “serving balanced and informative political programming to those in the middle who want to stay engaged.” The latest episode features a conversation with Billings Republican legislator Daniel Zolnikov.