Now that it’s all over but the shoutin’, Democrats should feel okay about last night’s results. The one big, competitive and crucial race that mattered most, we won big. Mike Wheat destroyed Lawrence VanDyke to retain his supreme court seat.
Despite all of our pre-election optimism, no polling prior to the election at any point, ever indicated that the two federal races were winnable. They showed consistent double-digit leads for the Republicans. This speaks to the courage and backbone of the candidates and staffers who took on Daines and Zinke- we can be proud of them all.
Daines and Zinke ran smart races (not the intellectual content, but the strategy) and did what they needed to do. Amanda Curtis and John Lewis ran into an anti-Obama buzzsaw, and there was little they could do at all to scale the cliff that lay before them. Candidates of a lesser caliber would have fared much worse. Both have very bright political futures.
And for anyone who thinks John Walsh would have fared any better had his plagiarism not been uncovered–he might have put up better numbers but he still would have been beaten and probably pretty badly. Realize that Obama in Montana has lower numbers than he did in any of the other states in which important senate races were lost. This was not a night for a Montana democrat to win a ticket to Washington DC.
I was shocked at how badly Wheat beat VanDyke, but it goes to show you that Montana voters have a good nose and can sniff things out, and smell when something is not right.
We lost some good men and women last night: Franke Wilmer and Greg Jergeson, incumbents who lost state senate races will be missed. these were targeted Senate races that ended up not even being close. Jergeson eschewed help from the party, refusing to allow canvassers to go door-to-door, and this was a mistake that we can learn from and apply to future races. Wilmer struggled likely because Bozeman is Daines country and he got his people out. Ultimately, however, the tide was simply too strong against us to make more than small gains, much like in 2010.
In the state house, however, Dems picked up two seats, and the senate remains the same as last session. This is a small victory which deserves a big celebration in this climate. It also means a net gain of one additional pro-Medicaid expansion vote in the house.
Also two big Helena races went our way. Mary-Anne Dunwell beat Steve Gibson and Moffie Funk beat Liz Bangerter, both rep seats. Bangerter is an angry right-winger who now understands that Helenans have no tolerance for posturing.
Two close shaves, by the way in Missoula. Diane Sands, of Missoula, was in the fight of her life last night in what had been thought to be a safe seat. It looks like she will win by a dozen or so votes. And Gary Marbut, the NRA lunatic, barely lost by a handful of votes, but again in a seat that was supposed to be safe. I think we can all cheer the fact that RWNJ Gerry O’Neil is no longer a member of Montana’s lawmaking body, thanks to Zac Perry.
Another major victory is the defeat of the Teapublican ballot measure to restrict voting rights. It lost big, and rightly so.
One dark spot last night, not of Obama’s making, is in Big Horn County- home of the Crow Reservation, where Daines and Curtis battled to a draw. That’s a serious problem for Democrats and we need to repair it. We also need to be mindful of the number of TEA party candidates who are directly in the pocket of the Montana Family Foundation- notorious anti education but jobs. They elected another of their lobbyists Debra Lamm, but thankfully Tonya Shellnut lost to Mary McNally.