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.

Though this special electoral contest has not received as much national attention as the impending GA-6 race that will set a special election spending record between the two parties and features almost another month in campaign time, both Montana candidates and outside organizations will easily exceed $12 million in combined expenditures.

Quist has done very well on the national small dollar fundraising front, and is on course to reach $5 million in receipts before the race concludes this week. Counting a sizable seven-figure personal contribution from Gianforte, his spending will likely equal his Democratic counterpart. The outside expenditures, however, favor Gianforte by a ratio that could reach 5:1, since Democratic and liberal organizations have not been as bullish on this particular special election race, seemingly wanting to put “all of their eggs in one basket”, if you will, toward the Georgia special election effort.

Polling has been sparse for the Montana campaign, and the traditional survey numbers we have seen from only a few pollsters have all favored Gianforte. Six polls were released into the public domain during the period between April 6 and yesterday, four from Gravis Marketing. All find Gianforte’s margin lying between six and 15 percentage points.

Yesterday’s data, an automated spot poll from Gravis (May 22; 818 likely Montana special election voters) finds Gianforte holding a 49-35 percent advantage. The lone Democratic public study came in late April from Garin Hart Yang Research (April 25-27; 601 likely Montana special election voters) and gave the Republican a lesser 49-43 percent edge over Democrat Quist.

As in all elections, but especially ones that feature a lower participation rate, voter turnout will be the determining factor. Both sides are working hard to deliver their votes in an at-large campaign that encompasses the fourth largest American state in terms of area but one that holds just the 44th largest population contingent.

A Democratic upset here would be politically earth shattering, but it appears unlikely to occur.

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