Democrats face an uphill battle in their effort to turn the Montana special election into a referendum on President Donald Trump after their party failed to win in either the Kansas or Georgia special elections.
The Montana race is the final chance for Democrats to prove they can win in Republican districts with the Montana special election to replace former Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke. Democrats have already raised rallying cries around the Republican candidate in the race, asserting businessman Greg Gianforte can be easily defeated.
Although Democratic candidate in the Georgia special election Jon Ossoff won with the most votes in the April 18 special election, he didn’t clear the 50 percent mark to avoid a runoff. He’s unlikely to win the runoff election in June, which leaves Montana as the final stand for Democrats who want to prove Republican voters have tired of the new administration in the months since the November presidential election.
“We have to seize this moment and help solidify the current narrative, which is this president and this party, the Republicans, can’t govern and we will all pay the price for that,” Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee told the Huffington Post. “What’s interesting is that there’s interest around the country in these races that normally don’t get any attention beyond their local media market.”
“There are some people on the national level who are saying this is the referendum of what’ll happen with Trump, because our state went for Trump. But the reality is it’s local. Our state is unique: We elected Steve Bullock and Trump by a wide margin,” Jim Larson, chairman of the Montana Democratic Party told Politico in March.
Although the Montana at-large representative is considered by several outlets to be a safe Republican seat, Democrats assert that Gianforte’s recent loss in the state’s gubernatorial election is proof that he can be beaten in a statewide election.
The Republican invested $5.1 million of his own money into 2016’s gubernatorial election, and aired 30,661 TV ads, setting a record for any state level candidate so far.
Democrats also point to Trump’s win in 2016 as proof that anything can happen, including a Democratic victory in a safe Republican seat.
“He creates an environment where conventional wisdom has to be discarded. Conventional wisdom said he couldn’t get elected, but I don’t think that the wisdom all falls in the same direction. The conventional wisdom is that in Montana, or Georgia, those seats are out of reach for us. I wouldn’t bet on it,” Kildee told the Huffington post.
The Montana race in May will be much different than the Georgia special election. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all selected their respective challengers in party committees, effectively eliminating the problem the GOP had in Georgia when 11 candidates competed for the same votes.
Democrats opted to support popular musician Rob Quist for the Democratic nomination for Representative. The Libertarian party selected Mark Wicks. Neither one has a political history, according to Ballotpedia.
Gianforte sold his tech firm to Oracle for $1.5 billion in 2011, and moved to Montana. He lost the 2016 election by just under 20,000 votes, earning 46.36 percent. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock earned 50.25 percent in the 2016 Montana gubernatorial race.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced last Thursday it planned to invest up to six figures in the race in the form of ad buys, according to a report from the Huffington Post.
The Republican-backed Congressional Leadership Fund announced it planned to invest $1 million into the race, and the National Republican Congressional Committee plans to devote an additional $300,000 in resources to keep the seat Republican.
The Democrats first tested their referendum argument in the Kansas special election to replace former Rep. Mike Pompeo.
Party organizers declared the Kansas election a success because the vote was much closer than in Pompeo’s 2016 congressional electoral victory. Pompeo won the district in 2016 with 62.2 percent of the vote. Trump earned 60.2 percent in the district, compared to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s 33 percent of the vote. Democratic candidate James Thompson earned 12.7 percent more than Clinton did, indicating that Democrats were able to advance their level of support in the Kansas fourth congressional district between November and the special election.
Democrats then took their Trump referendum platform to Georgia. Democratic candidate for Georgia’s 6th congressional district Jon Ossoff won the special election, but by a small enough margin to force the vote to a runoff in June. Ossoff only earned 1.3 percent more than former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton did against Trump in 2016. That small difference indicates that Georgia voters were largely unaffected by President Trump in the days since the November election, essentially refuting Democratic leadership’s argument that the nation is rejecting Trump.
Ossoff isn’t expected to win the Georgia runoff election in June, largely due to the fact that more Republicans voted than Democrats, indicating that Republicans will coalesce around runner-up and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel. Eleven Republicans ran in the April voting, splitting the vote enough to allow Ossoff to take the lead.
The special election will be held May 25.
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