Thursday, May 25, 2017

Montana’s At Large House Election: Can Democrat Rob Quist Win His Quixotic Quest?

Tom is back with the BTRTN take on the Montana Special Election.

The second of five special elections in the House of Representatives slated for 2017 will occur today, May 15, for Montana’s At Large seat.  To refresh, these elections are required because Trump named four House members to his Cabinet, and a fifth, a California Democrat, was named that state’s Attorney General.  Many eyes are focused on these races as referendums on the state of the Trump presidency (and this is a legitimate thought) and also as a predictor of the 2018 midterms (this perhaps far less so given we have 16+ months to go).  Here are the five in chart form:

State/ Dist.
Nov. 2016 Outcome
Trump vs   Clinton
General Election
(D versus R,ex-Cal)
Pompeo (R)
R + 31
R + 27
Apr 11
Thompson - Estes
R + 7
Zinke (R)
R + 15
R + 20
May 25
Quist  - Gianforte
CAL 34
Bacerra (D)
D + 100
D + 73
Jun 6
Gomez(D) - Ahn(D)
GA 6
Price (R)
R + 24
R + 1
Jun 20
Ossoff - Handel
SC 5
Mulvaney (R)
R + 20
R + 18
Jun 20
Parnell - Norman

The GOP received an enormous scare in the first of these races in April, in Kansas’ 4th District, which Republican Ron Estes won by a mere +7 points, just six months after Mike Pompeo won the same seat by +31 and Donald Trump took the same district by +27.

This was followed by the primary in Georgia’s 6th district, which Democrat Jon Ossoff nearly won outright, falling just short of the 50% mark that would have eliminated the requirement of a runoff general election; nevertheless Ossoff handily defeated a large field comprised of both Republicans and Democrats.  Ossoff will get his chance again in the general election on June 20 versus Republican Karen Handel.  Tom Price had won this solid red district in November, 2016 by +24 points, although Trump barely beat Hillary Clinton there, winning by a mere point.

The Kansas and Georgia results are ominous for the GOP, and it is hard not to conclude that the closeness of these elections for normally solid red seats is indeed a statement about unhappiness with Donald Trump.  And they occurred well before the heightened Russia/Flynn/Comey madness that has resulted in the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

And now comes Montana, with similar dynamics.  Ryan Zinke, now Interior Secretary, won this seat in November by a healthy +15 points, and Trump took the state by +20.  But while Montana is definitely a red state, it does have a history of two-party representation.  In fact, the current Governor (Steve Bullock) is a Democrat, as is one of its two Senators (John Tester).

Montana’s At Large race (this means that the state’s population is so sparse that it has only one representative in the House) features two colorful characters, software entrepreneur and Trump clone Gary Gianforte for the GOP, and bluegrass singer Rob Quist for the Dems.  Gianforte has embraced Trump far more than his Kansas and Georgia counterparts, and continues to do so despite Trump’s lessening appeal.  Quist punctuates his campaign stops with his own campaign song.

The Democratic Party has been a bit schizophrenic thus far in its support of Quist, at first declining to back a seeming “lost cause” but since then stepping up with a $400,000 cash infusion to a campaign that has raised over $6 million thus far and is much closer than expected.  The race has brought out the heavyweights, with Bernie Sanders campaigning for Quist and Vice President Mike Pence, undoubtedly thrilled to have a break from the chaotic White House, stumping for Gianforte.

Polling has been sketchy.  Most of it has been conducted by Gravis, which has a notorious GOP lean, and their latest, just released, has Gianforte up by +14 points.  Google Consumer Surveys also just released a new survey and it has Quist up by +14.  Neither of these outcomes appears to be likely to us.  We expect a far closer race.

We just read about Gianforte's misdemeanor assault charge last night for bodyslamming a reporter.  This could have a material change on the election.  Predicting an outcome with few polls, and highly skewed ones at that, is perilous enough, and now an 11th hour potential gamechanger.  But here goes:

BTRTN believes that the bodyslamming incident will push Quist over the top, probably by less than 5 points.  

Note:  we changed our prediction when we read about the bodyslamming this morning.  We had previously called Gianforte in a close one.

POST ELECTION EDIT:  I should have stuck with my original pre-bodyslamming prediction of Gianforte winning by 5 points or less.  He won by +6.

If you want to make phone calls to get out the vote for Quist, here is a link:

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