By Jim Ellis
March 8, 2017 — Montana Republicans convened Monday night in the capital city of Helena to choose their nominee for the special at-large congressional election to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Unlike the Democratic meeting the day before, the GOP caucus went according to the predicted political script.
Before the state convention, 2016 Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Gianforte claimed to have enough pledged votes to win on the first ballot, even against five other candidates. With 203 voting members attending last night, Gianforte’s claim held true. He captured 123 first ballot votes, over 60 percent of those present and voting, and won the nomination after just one round of voting.
During the preliminary question and answer period where the six candidates fielded queries from the delegates, concern was raised about whether the special election winner would serve for more than a term. The last two Republican at-large House members, current US Sen. Steve Daines and Zinke, each departed after one term. Daines was elected to the Senate in 2014 after first winning the House seat in 2012. Though Zinke successfully ran for a second term, he would only serve two months before being confirmed as President Trump’s Interior Secretary.
In response to the seniority question, Gianforte pledged he would seek election to a full term in 2018. Such a move would seemingly take him out of play as a prospective challenger to Sen. Jon Tester (D), who will run for a third term at that same time.
Democrats chose musician Rob Quist in a surprise result at their convention on Sunday. This will be the first political campaign for Quist, and Gianforte wasted little time in attacking him saying, “ … we don’t need to send Nancy Pelosi a court musician who wants to socialize medicine.”
The special election is scheduled for May 25. Gianforte attracted over 235,000 votes in obtaining 46 percent against Gov. Steve Bullock (D) last November. In this contest, he will likely win comfortably with just over one-third of that total.
The Trafalgar Group released a new survey (March 2-3; 450-plus likely GA-6 special election voters) for the upcoming northern Georgia special congressional election, and found a crowded jungle primary field.
Democrats are excited about former congressional aide and investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff and he leads in this Trafalgar poll, but with just 18.3 percent support from the sampling group. Close on his heels is Republican former Secretary of State Karen Handel (18.0 percent).
But, the good news for Ossoff seems to end there. Combined, the six Republican candidates who recorded support in the poll captured 45 percent preference, while Ossoff and a fellow Democrat, former state Sen. Ron Slotin, could manage only a combined 21 percent.
Democrats were buoyed by Hillary Clinton coming within 1.5 percentage points of Donald Trump in the district, a result viewed as a major Republican under-performance. While then-Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell) was taking 62 percent of the 2016 vote, his career average in the seat is over 70 percent.
Ossoff also just released three new campaign ads — one attacking President Trump. Since the Trafalgar data finds the president with a 51:41 percent positive job approval rating in the 6th District, this particular message may well miss Ossoff’s intended mark.