It will grow, but right now the field of Democratic candidates for the special election to replace Ryan Zinke is already nearing a dozen. Brian Schweitzer has effectively bowed out by having endorsed Rob Quist, the well-known Montana musician. Zeno Baucus, a lawyer and Max’s son, has expressed interest as have Amanda Curtis and Pat Noonan and a handful of other former and current legislators and unknowns. Sources close to Denise Juneau and Monica Lindeen are saying they have chosen not to run. No word from the likes of John Bohlinger or Dirk Adams.
The nominating conventions will be held 75 before the special election, which itself will be scheduled (by law) for a date 85-115 days after the congressional vacancy occurs. From start to finish the whole election will be slightly greater than three and a half months, so it’s a sprint and not a marathon. And the crucial question is not necessarily who runs, but who votes. That goes for the primary and the general. The primary is decided at special conventions and only a portion of the total delegates will show up. Attendance at such functions, in both parties, is rarely anywhere close to 100%. And the general election will take place late spring, an isolated event with no other contests on the same day or even the same month.
As for the candidates, Quist is the most interesting name on the list, for he brings something of an important nature that Democrats often overlook and usually find a way to dismiss in our search for congressional candidates: he is from somewhere other than the legislature or Helena and appeals to folks all over the state. He is a little bit country, not rock and roll. His songs have been covered by famous country artists, and he still performs regularly. He wears a cowboy hat and a cowboy scarf, an image that can’t hurt Dems nowadays. In his nascent campaign so far, he has talked about the need for the federal government to treat farmers better.
Greg Gianforte is by all accounts planning a run, having waited patiently to ensure that Schweitzer was out. Gianforte is a strong contender because he has name and money, but he is by no means a prohibitive favorite. The GOP is not happy with him for the limp campaign he ran for governor, and many Republicans agree with the Montana Democratic Party that Gianforte is “from New Jersey” and therefore fully ineligible for Montana office. Gianforte was not helped in December when it was reported that he had recently given $20 million to his New Jersey alma mater, the Stevens Institute of Technology, a donation that dwarfs the money he has pledged to Montana State University. Expect him to hastily rectify this political error by increasing his philanthropy to the Montana University system prior to the special election.
Scott Sales, Ed Buttrey and a few other legislators will be running on the Republican side as well. Buttrey faces the herculean task of trying to convince a Tea Party wackadoodle crowd at the nominating convention that his stewardship, and co-authorship, of the Medicaid Expansion bill in 2015 is something that they should appreciate.