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.