By Jim Ellis
March 3, 2017 — The Senate confirmed Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT-AL) as President Trump’s Interior Secretary yesterday, and the Montana political apparatus wasted no time initiating the special election to replace him.
After confirmation, Zinke immediately resigned from the House, and released a statement thanking his constituents for allowing him to serve. “It has been an honor to serve you in Congress, and I appreciate the faith and trust you put in me to represent your values, interests and priorities,” the new secretary said in his departing remarks.
Upon receiving word of Zinke’s resignation, Gov. Steve Bullock (D) scheduled the replacement special election for May 25. Under Montana election law, the recognized political parties will meet in convention to choose their special election nominees, thus the electorate will vote only once.
On cue, the Montana Democrats quickly announced their convention schedule. The Democratic Party nominating meeting will occur this Sunday, March 5. Eight individuals, including state Representative and 2014 US Senate nominee Amanda Curtis along with fellow legislator Kelly McCarthy, have declared their candidacies.
Republicans are on a slower track. State GOP chairman Jeff Essmann indicated that the state party committee would schedule their convention “soon”, but not for this weekend.
The GOP also imposes a $1,750 internal filing fee to become a candidate for the upcoming special convention. Seven individuals have already posted the money, including businessman and 2016 gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte, state Sen. Ed Buttrey, state Rep. Carl Glimm, and former Montana legislator Ed Walker.
Gianforte claims he already has enough committed delegate votes to win the nomination, and has gained Sen. Steve Daines’ (R) public endorsement in the process. Gianforte ran a much closer November race against Gov. Bullock than originally anticipated. The final margin of 50-46 percent gave the Republican challenger needed momentum to establish himself as the front-runner for the special congressional election.
Though the current political climate should favor the eventual GOP nominee, a Democratic upset is certainly within the realm of possibility. The elections of Gov. Bullock and two-term Sen. Jon Tester prove that the Democrats can still win statewide elections in Big Sky country.
President Trump carried Montana by a 57-36 percent margin. In 2014, Sen. Daines scored a 58-40 percent win over Curtis. Back in 2012, Mitt Romney carried the state, 55-42 percent, on the same day that voters returned Sen. Tester to Washington. The latter’s victory margin was 48-45 percent over then at-large Congressman Denny Rehberg (R).
The Democratic leadership was dealt a blow in January when former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau (D), the 2016 congressional nominee who lost to Rep. Zinke, declined to run in the special election. This leaves the party with a cadre of second-tier candidates.
Now that all of the special congressional elections are defined, we can review the coming election calendar from a national perspective:
March 5 – Montana Democratic Nominating Convention – MT-AL (Ryan Zinke)
April 4 — California Jungle Primary – CA-34 (Xavier Becerra)
April 11 – Kansas Special General – KS-4 (Mike Pompeo)
April 18 – Georgia Jungle Primary – GA-6 (Tom Price)
May 2 – South Carolina Partisan Primaries – SC-5 (Mick Mulvaney)
May 16 – South Carolina Partisan Run-offs – SC-5
May 25 – Montana Special General – MT-AL
June 6 – California Special General – CA-34
June 20 – Georgia Special General – GA-6
June 20 – South Carolina Special General – SC-5