A poll was conducted this weekend by the Bozeman Chronicle, surveying the handful of democratic party activists who will decide the nomination for congress at the special convention coming up soon.
Newcomer Rob Quist is edging out two well-known legislators. Quist has 37 delegates, Amanda Curtis has 30 and Kelly McCarthy has 13. At the convention there could be as many as 250 although it will likely be much lower and might even end up under 100 (there were 129 at the convention in 2014 when Curtis was selected as the nominee for US Senate). Turnout at special conventions is as unpredictable as in other elections.
As percentages, this poll has it Quist 46%, Curtis 37%, McCarthy 16%. It’s remarkable because Quist is a total outsider and yet has gained traction even among an inside crowd. The delegates to the convention are the four party activists from each county in Montana, who constitute the state leadership committee of the Democratic Party. Some of the comments of the delegates surveyed were interesting too, including a few who indicated that although they would prefer Amanda Curtis, they feel Quist could appeal more broadly and in rural places. Support for Curtis from the very powerful teachers’ union, the MEA, does not appear to be mattering, despite Feaverish phone work. (Curtis is a state MEA board member, so the group kind of has no choice but to try to whip support for her.) Financial support and endorsement is largely meaningless when there are only 150 voters. If it were a citizen primary, union dough would be paying for Curtis TV ads, but in this case one must assume that the most important force being exerted upon the delegates is simply the ugly history, the string of gigantic losses in House races going back several decades.
The last time Montanans sent a fresh Democratic face to fill this seat was 1993. The only reason that there is any real optimism about this race among Dems is that his election will have low turnout because it’s at an odd time, and presidents almost always loose seats in Congress during their first term. The way things are going Trump’s act will likely have worn thin by the time the election takes place in early Summer. So you never know. Also, the presumptive Republican nominee is Greg Gianforte, who though well funded seems to have a serious problem connecting with Montana voters. He also has significant baggage.
Quist is a fairly well-known Montana singer-songwriter among medium aged and older Montanans. Curtis is a Teacher from Butte. McCarthy is a defense contractor and military intelligence specialist from Billings. If the first ballot at the convention resembles this poll then it will a two person race on the second ballot, the musician versus the teacher, and the question is whether Quist picks up more from McCarthy than Curtis does. It’s anyone’s guess but I’d say Quist must be pleased with the results of this survey.