The votes are in and the favorites generally won their races last night. Walsh, Lewis, Zinke, Daines.
Resources were mattered. Zinke and Walsh had them, and it made the difference. Matt Rosendale was a bit surprising given that he spent about even with Zinke, but in the end, in a crowded field full of aspiring lunatics, the moderate candidate will often win. Just ask Rick Hill or Mitt Romney. That’s an important reality for the Tea Party to grapple with, which is that they have very primary insurgent victories for all the trouble they try to cause. This year, oddly, it was centrists who tried to act like Tea Partiers–Rick Hill, for example–but even that didn’t work.
John Bohlinger put up a good fight but in the end, Walsh stayed the course and delivered a resounding victory, as one would expect a sitting Senator to do. Bohlinger was always facing a peculiar challenge of having to persuade voters that he is no longer a Republican, and that, plus a lack of funds or organization, probably weighed him down heavily. Walsh will now have to amp it up. Nate Silver is giving him only a fractional chance at winning the race. I personally think Daines is beatable, because he is a member of Congress polling below 40%.
John Lewis gave away a surprising 40% to John Driscoll, but Lewis saved his money, kept his powder dry, and now has some good ammo to begin the shooting war with Ryan Zinke. That will be an interesting affair. Expect a swiftboating of Zinke, given his questionable use of funding and the strange ambiguity surrounding his military record, which even his fellow Seals are talking about. Meanwhile, expect Zinke to try to hang Obamacare around Lewis’s neck, through the Baucus connection. This is a campaign that will be won by the smarter, savvier operation, I believe. Lewis is probably the Dem’s best chance in a decade to recapture this seat, although this is simply by virtue of the fact that he is a legitimate candidate. None of the nominees since 2002 has even raised real money or mounted a serious campaign. That’s going to change now. And remember the best thing that Democrats always have going for them: Republicans in Montana seem to be getting better and better at losing races they should win. They are simply not good at modern political strategy.
Also, good news in Ravalli County: the two wing-nut county commissioners and a treasurer who have turned Ravalli into a statewide Tea Party farce, all incumbents, were sent packing in the GOP primary. The TEA Partier in the Bozeman County Commission race, Barb Blum, also lost in the primary contest for that open commission seat. In Lake County, TEA Partier Rory Horning failed to unseat incumbent county commissioner Bill Barron. Bad news in Broadwater County, where a top two style non-partisan county commission election sent forward not just the popular Laura Obert but also TEA Party bigot Tim Ravndal, who made national news for comments he made that implied support for violence against gays. Ravndal was kicked out of the Helena TEA Party and formed his own new conservative TEA Party. (If this were a Lee Newspapers blog, you’d be reading how these commission races show equal wins for TEA Partiers and main street Republicans.)
In the Public Service Commission race, Brad Johnson easily Derek Skees in the GOP primary. He will now face Galen Hollenbaugh. Skees is a Flathead County agitator whose base constituency is made up of skinheads and recently arrived bible-belt transplants. These nuts once thought they had a glorious Tea Party future but it’s kind of crumbled now. Skees has now been beaten by a guy who ran his last race for public office out of a rehab facility.