Tag Archives: Montana

Senate Candidate Review

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 25, 2017 — After Friday’s review of the open House races, today we update the first half of the 33 in-cycle Senate races in terms of serious candidate personnel. Tomorrow, we will complete the remaining 17 states.

In contrast to the House where 26 regular cycle seats are open, no current Senate incumbent has announced his or her retirement.

(Regular type means the individual is an announced contender; italics denote possible candidate.)

ARIZONA — TOSS UP
Sen. Jeff Flake (R)
Kelli Ward (R) – former State Senator
Jeff DeWit (R) – State Treasurer
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) – US Representative
State Rep. Randy Friese (D) – Physician; Tucson area state legislator
• Sen. Flake is in trouble in the Republican primary largely due to his personal feud with President Trump. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) waits in the wings. Should she enter the race, there is a strong chance the Democrats coalesce behind her.

CALIFORNIA — SAFE D
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)
State Sen. Kevin de Leon (D) – State Senate President
• Indications are suggesting that Sen. Feinstein, now 84 years old, will seek re-election. She should have little in the way of opposition, but state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) made public statements about challenging the senator after the latter made a favorable comment about President Trump. Unlikely such a challenge will actually happen, however.
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Tester Draws Opponent

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 2, 2017 — Republicans have been working to recruit a top-tier challenger to two-term Sen. Jon Tester (D), and yesterday they identified such an individual. Montana Commissioner of Insurance and State Auditor Matt Rosendale announced that he will join the Republican primary, vying to become the party nominee and oppose Sen. Tester in the next election.

Rosendale was first elected to his statewide position just last November, so he is quickly making the move for federal office. Prior to running for auditor, he served a term in the state House of Representatives and a pair of consecutive two-year stints in the state Senate, representing the Glendive area in Montana’s far eastern sector. In the 2015-16 session, Rosendale was the Senate Majority Leader.

In 2016, he ran to succeed Democratic Auditor Monica Lindeen who was ineligible to seek a third term. Rosendale defeated former state Rep. Jesse Laslovich (D), 54-46 percent, from an electorate of more than 486,000 voters.

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Fake Analysis?

By Jim Ellis

June 30, 2017 — As we all know, one of President Trump’s favorite gambits is to call out reporters for what he terms their “fake news” stories, and we see an example this week of where he may be right. The New York Times is one of the president’s favorite whipping posts, and Nate Cohn’s analysis in the publication’s Political Calculus section about the Democrats’ chances in the 2018 election cycle is at least dangerously close to fitting into that category. While Cohn’s analysis may not be “fake”, he certainly omits a great many facts that don’t conveniently fit his premise.

Cohn is right in the early part of his article when he states that for Democrats to win the net 24 seats they need to capture at least a one-seat House majority they must expand the political playing field. He goes so far as to say they need to challenge perhaps as many as 70 Republican incumbents or nominees in open Republican seats in order to obtain that number, and his statement may well be correct.

But the “fake” part of the analysis again surrounds the special elections just completed. The author reiterates the common narrative that the Republicans under-performed in these seats, which, therefore, lays the foundation for a Democratic sweep in next year’s House races.

The premise of Republican under-performance in these campaigns simply isn’t accurate in three of the four GOP-held seats. While true President Trump recorded big percentages in the four districts, and House Republican incumbents previously racked up large victory margins against weak opponents, an “apples to apples” comparison puts the results into better perspective. In past open seat or challenger contests in these same seats, the Republican special election victors came within at least similar range with previous winning GOP candidates in like situations. The current analyses isolate the Trump numbers, which in many cases aren’t like other Republican totals, while adding landslide incumbent wins that skew the underlying vote history.

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The Aftermath

By Jim Ellis

June 22, 2017 — Much was written and discussed yesterday about Tuesday’s surprising special election results in GA-6 and SC-5. Democrats, in particular, had raised victory expectations to unrealistically high levels for the Georgia race while spending record sums of money there, yet still suffered another crushing defeat.

Northeast from the Atlanta district some 200 miles away on Interstate 85, South Carolina Democratic candidate Archie Parnell, who the national party leadership basically considered politically dead even before he won the party nomination, lost by only two percentage points. He actually came closer to his Republican opponent than GA-6 candidate Jon Ossoff did while having 97 percent less in the way of campaign financial resources.

Predictably, Democratic congressional members, activists, and donors from around the country are not happy with the party leadership over the losses, but talk inside and outside the House of deposing the leadership team of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC) will soon dissipate.

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Setting the Record Straight

By Jim Ellis

May 30, 2017 — More incorrect post-election analysis is coming to the forefront after last week’s Montana special congressional election.

After a similar Kansas special electoral contest in April yielded stories saying that a 7,600-vote Republican victory was an under-performance and reflected poorly upon a besieged President Donald Trump, similar analyses came immediately after Greg Gianforte’s 23,000-vote (22,990) win last Thursday over Democratic nominee Rob Quist.

In response to the media stories in April, we pointed out that the 52-46 percent Ron Estes victory in Kansas’ Wichita anchored district was only slightly behind previous open seat or challenger GOP victories – Todd Tiahrt first converting the seat in 1994 with 53 percent and Mike Pompeo winning the open district seven years ago with 59 percent – rather than a precursor to a coming Democratic wave election. In both the Kansas and Montana post-election analysis, the past Republican-Democrat performance was generally only defined as how the candidates performed in the 2016 and 2012 presidential elections, while failing to account for the particular region’s more complete voting history.

The New York Times ran a story last Friday, the day after the Montana election, that portrayed liberal Democratic base activists as being upset with the party chieftains who didn’t prioritize converting the at-large Big Sky Country campaign. Again, the 50-44 percent Republican victory was couched as Quist being in range for an upset if more outside support would have come from national Democratic party organizations and affiliated outside organizations. Citing President Trump’s 20-point victory in the state as basically the sole determining factor as Montana being a “solid Republican state”, the Gianforte victory pales in comparison.

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Gianforte KO’s Quist in Montana

By Jim Ellis

May 26, 2017 — Bozeman, Montana businessman and former gubernatorial nominee Greg Gianforte (R) shrugged off a 24-hour media pounding last evening. The congressional candidate, besieged with attacks over his election eve physical altercation with a Guardian-US publication reporter, rebounded to defeat country folk singer Rob Quist, 50-44 percent, in the state’s at-large special congressional election.

The victory margin translates into a 24,027-vote edge, from a voting universe of just under 375,000 people with one county still to report, who either came to the polls or mailed a pre-election day absentee ballot. The turnout is a special election record, and actually exceeds the number who voted in the state’s most recent mid-term (2014). The numbers are unusually high because the Montana at-large seat is the largest congressional district in the country, housing over one million residents.

The special congressional vote was made necessary when former at-large Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish) was appointed US Interior Secretary. The major political parties nominated their candidates in convention, a process that produced Gianforte for the Republicans, which had been expected since he had run a close gubernatorial bid in November, and Quist for the Democrats.

In the end, the final result was not as close as several final pre-election media stories predicted. There were several pieces, even in conservative publications, that left the door wide open for a Quist upset finish, and the writers were already beginning to spin how this Montana election result would reflect poorly on President Trump.

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Gianforte Slams Reporter – Literally!

By Jim Ellis

May 25, 2017 — On the eve of today’s Montana special election, at-large Republican special election congressional nominee Greg Gianforte was involved in a physical altercation with a national news reporter, Ben Jacobs from the Guardian-US publication, a confrontation the correspondent described as being “body slammed.”

According to Gianforte campaign spokespeople, Jacobs pushed his way into an inner office area where a different interviewer was questioning the candidate. Shane Scanlon, speaking for the Republican nominee, said the Guardian correspondent entered the room and immediately started aggressively interrogating Gianforte about the newly released Congressional Budget Office report that scored the GOP healthcare legislation.

An audio of the conflict contains indistinguishable sounds, but ends with Jacobs claiming he had been thrown to the ground and his eyeglasses broken after Gianforte yells that he is “sick of this,” a reference to what he apparently believes is harassment from news reporters. Jacobs is then heard saying that he wanted to call the police. Gallatin County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene, opened an ongoing investigation but left the premises without arresting or charging Gianforte with any crime. The inquiry, however, is far from over.

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Montana Special:
The Healthcare Referendum

By Jim Ellis

May 24, 2017 — We’re going to see either a quick validation or clear rejection of the Democrats’ healthcare strategy later this week.

Montanans head to the polls on Thursday, an unusual day for an election, to replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish), who left the House to become US Interior Secretary. Toward the end of this expensive campaign, Democratic candidate Rob Quist has been zeroing in on Republican nominee Greg Gianforte’s support of the recently House-passed healthcare legislation, most specifically its sections relating to pre-existing conditions.

Whether the race turns on this specific issue remains to be seen, but Quist and the Democratic strategists are crafting the end of their campaign to make this congressional special election a referendum on the GOP’s proposed changes to the nation’s healthcare law. (See ad below)

Because the provisions will allow the states to change the pre-existing condition coverage requirement, Quist is using his own “botched surgery” as an example of the risks people with some type of health problem could face. Quist doesn’t explain how his own surgical problem directly related to insurance -– he doesn’t indicate that he was, or would be, denied future coverage because of this procedure, for example -– but his point is to show how many people could easily fall into the category of having some pre-existing health problem that could preclude them from receiving future coverage.

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SC Run-off and Outright Win

By Jim Ellis

May 4, 2017
— Voters went to the polls in South Carolina Tuesday to begin the nomination process in the special election to replace Office of Management & Budget director Mick Mulvaney. The results were as predicted.

For the Republicans, the two leading candidates going into the partisan primary, state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and former state representative and 2006 congressional nominee Ralph Norman, virtually tied in the final result. Pope finished first with only a 112-vote margin, scoring 30.5 percent in a field of seven Republican candidates. Norman’s percentage was 30.2.

The 5th District contains all or part of 11 north-central South Carolina counties. Both Pope and Norman hail from York County, the district’s largest population entity. There, Pope outdistanced Norman by 137 votes. That means the difference between the two was just 25 votes in the remaining 10 counties.

Turnout was 38,903 in the Republican primary with the Democrats adding an additional 18,573 who voted in their nomination contest. The total participation factor of 57,476 represented only 12.5 percent of the district’s registered voters. This number pales in comparison to the GA-6 turnout that exceeded 192,000, as we saw on April 18, but was much stronger than the Los Angeles special earlier last month that drew just under 29,000 voters.

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Finally, a Montana Poll

By Jim Ellis

April 27, 2017 — While the Montana at-large special election has been heating up with both major party candidates approaching the $2 million mark in campaign receipts and each heavily spending on media, we had surprisingly not seen any polling data … until yesterday.

The lack of polling led some analysts to believe the race was trending toward Republican Greg Gianforte. Democrats, normally quick to release survey numbers that favor their candidate, had been unusually quiet about nominee Rob Quist’s ballot test status. GOP strategists typically tend to play their polling cards closer to the vest, but often publicize survey data in response to what they see as embellished numbers for the opponent.

It’s possible that such an argument scenario has some validity in this instance. The Emerson College Polling Society made public their recent survey totals that post Gianforte to a major advantage over country rock singer Rob Quist (D).

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Dems: Targeting Trouble

By Jim Ellis

April 26, 2017 — Democrats appear encouraged by their early House special election performance, which has spurred some talk about the party’s possibilities of re-claiming the House majority next year.

While the open special election Democratic candidates are of high quality in California, Georgia, and Montana, the early regular cycle contenders are lacking, finding themselves already embroiled in multi-candidate primaries, or not even in existence.

Of the 10 already announced regular cycle open seats six are in Republican districts. All are either categorized as safe or likely Republican, so the prospects for Democratic gains in this important sector appear non-existent at least within the current configuration.

Turning to the challenger races, Democrats are active on the recruiting front but it appears the party leadership efforts, combined with individuals declaring candidacies of their own accord, are resulting in either feast or famine. In each of 36 districts, for example, against Republican incumbents not even considered especially vulnerable, Democrats already have multiple announced candidates.

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Updating the Four Specials

By Jim Ellis

April 25, 2017 — Coming through the highly publicized GA-6 special election, the political overtime campaign season is hitting its stride as we approach May voting. In Georgia, South Carolina, Montana, and California, political action is now in full swing.

The GA-6 contest has eliminated all but finalists Jon Ossoff (D) and Karen Handel (R) in a race well on its way to becoming the most expensive congressional special election in American history. Right after last Tuesday’s vote, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sponsored an initial post-primary $450,000 flash media buy, which was quickly followed by the National Republican Congressional Committee’s $250,000 airtime purchase.

While the two sides exceeded $16 million in pre-primary fundraising, it appears the special general spending pattern is already following suit to no one’s surprise. We can count on seeing very active campaigning here all the way to the June 20th special general vote.

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Not So Quiet Now

By Jim Ellis

April 3, 2017 –News coming from Montana last week has put this seemingly quiet special election congressional campaign squarely on the political map.

It has largely been believed that the Democrats are effectively conceding three of the four specials now occurring because President Trump chose the previous incumbents for cabinet positions. On the other hand, CA-34, which opened when Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) became California attorney general, is a district where Republicans barely attract double-digit support. This special election campaign will likely feature two Democrats advancing to the run-off election, and is not in play for the GOP.

So far, the GA-6 race has received most of the early attention and appeared to be the only one where Democrats are going all out to win. Consensus Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff has already raised a whopping $4 million, and has a good chance of placing first in the jungle primary scheduled April 18. When Montana at-large candidate Rob Quist announced yesterday that he has already raised more than $754,000, the special election paradigm was altered.

The Democratic state convention chose Quist, a country rock performer and long-time local Montana folk singer, as their nominee at the beginning of the month, just after Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Kingfish) won confirmation as US Interior Secretary. Quist, though never before a candidate for political office, was viewed as someone fresh who could attract interest, which is proving to be the case. He upset 2014 US Senate nominee Amanda Curtis in the state nominating convention, and it now appears that the majority of delegates knew what they were doing.

To raise over $750,000 since March 5 with an average contribution of $40, means the Quist operation is already operating at a surprisingly high level. Though Montana has many media markets, none are particularly expensive. Therefore, Quist already has the resources to make known his message before the May 25 election even if he doesn’t raise much more.

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No Surprise in Montana;
New GA-6 Poll

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.

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Another Surprising Convention

By Jim Ellis

March 7, 2017 — It is commonly said that political conventions often assume a life of their own, and Sunday’s Democratic gathering in Montana to choose an at-large special congressional election nominee proved no exception to the axiom.

Last week, Gov. Steve Bullock (D) scheduled the congressional replacement vote for May 25 for the purpose of replacing former Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish), who is now US Interior Secretary. Therefore, all recognized political parties had to quickly caucus in order to choose their individual nominee. Democrats immediately announced they would meet on March 5, and Republicans followed suit yesterday. The Libertarians will select a nominee on Saturday.

Going into the party meeting at the Helena Great Northern Hotel in Montana’s capital city, state Rep. Amanda Curtis (D-Butte), a high school mathematics teacher who had been the party’s 2014 US Senate nominee, appeared to have the inside track for the special congressional nomination. Eight individuals stood before the 160 voting party members, with only two, Curtis and state Rep. Kelly McCarthy, being elected officials.

The voting consumed four rounds, with the final ballot winnowed down to Curtis and local bluegrass/country rock musician Rob Quist. On the final tally, it was Quist, born in Cut Bank, Mont. 69 years ago, who scored an upset 90-69 vote victory. Post-convention interviews suggested the majority of delegates wanted to choose the candidate they believed was more electable. Apparently, most thought Curtis would repeat her fate of 2014 when she fell to then-Rep. Steve Daines (R), 58-40 percent in that year’s US Senate campaign.

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