Breaking: Major Change in the Montana US House race

Recently, I posted about the Montana US House Race. Today, an announcement was made that makes this race a lot easier to figure out.

As I posted in my last article, Former US House Representative, Dennis Rehberg was considering entering the race. This would have made him the presumptive Candidate for that seat, and in all likelihood, he would have won. Today, he announced that he has decided to not enter the race because he wants to focus on his family and businesses. This changes the complexion of the race completely.

On the Republican side, not much has changed. The race is currently a four way race between Corey Stapleton, Matthew Rosendale, Ryan Zinke, and Drew Turiano. Former Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson is considering a run in this race and  State Sen. Elsie Arntzen of Billings claims that she will be entering the race next week.

On the Democratic side, there is only John Lewis. A number of other candidates MIGHT enter the race (the cutoff date is March 10th) but it is unlikely at this point.

As of this time, there is also an Independent in the race – Shawn White Wolf – and it appears the Billings Gazette article completely overlooked him. This is a bad idea but I will get to that later.

The reason I said this race has now become a lot easier to parse is that – without Rehberg in the race – the race becomes a lot simpler. With four to six Republicans in the race, the primary battle will become brutal, ugly and damaging. We need only look at what happened in 2012 with the Governor’s race to see that. The Republican candidates unloaded on each other far more than any Democratic candidates did and the winner of that primary was damaged goods as a result (not that Hill was a great candidate to begin with). Expect this primary fight to be even bloodier because, with the exception of Stapleton and Zinke, there isn’t a lot to distinguish the difference in the other candidates. To make an impression, expect at least four of the six candidates to go on a quest to show “how conservative” they are – meaning just how wingnut they can get. Zinke will stay above it for a couple of reasons – not the least of which is that his voting record is hardly conservative in the traditional sense. Stapleton will flirt with the wingnut right (like he did in the Governor’s race) but he can’t afford to alienate his strength – the young republicans that favor him over any of the other candidates.

In my opinion, it will likely come down to Stapleton and Zinke. Zinke has more money than Stapleton but he is (rightly) seen as an outsider – someone who spends more time cozying up to interests outside Montana rather than representing Montana. Both Zinke and Stapleton can claim a military background (though Zinke has already tried to misrepresent his military background for effect) and both have some name recognition. Brad Johnson can claim name recognition but it isn’t a good thing for him because that name recognition is also tied to a number of very public scandals. Expect the other candidates to take full advantage of those scandals during the primary.

Regardless of who wins the primary, they then have to face off against Lewis and White Wolf. Lewis has proven to be a fundraising machine (raising millions even before the first of the year) and he has political connections all over Montana given his previous job as State Director for Senator Max Baucus. He is also likely to inherit at least some funds from his former boss.

Lewis has a lot going for him. He seems to be well spoken, he is active in both social media and with the more mainstream media, and he is young. He projects both confidence and energy and I fully expect him to come with an already prepared platform. I have seen at least two ads for Lewis and they are both professionally done and will appeal to the Democratic base – especially the youth base that is so important in Montana. Since a midterm election is all about getting out the vote, it is easy to see that Lewis will probably be good at getting out the younger vote.

More importantly – given that Rehberg bowed out – Lewis’s campaign just got a whole lot easier. Instead of campaigning against a presumptive candidate like Rehberg starting today, Lewis can spend the next six months (until the primary) watching the Republican candidates eat each other while he works to get his name on the tongues of every single Montana voter. He can run a completely clean, issue driven campaign until the primary and by the time the dust settles on the Republican side, Lewis will be the candidate to beat.

The Wild card in all this is Shawn White Wolf. I am ashamed to say I know very little about him. He ran for the Montana house of Representatives in 2010 and at this point, I can’t even tell you what district he ran in. I know very little about this candidate other than he is a Native American and he was a counselor for the Montana United Indian Association.

What I can tell you is that he is already active on social media. Just two days ago, he took Bohlinger to task for something Bohlinger put up on his facebook site. Shawn has a facebook presence, a twitter account and a LinkedIn account. Like me, he claims to be a fiscal conservative and a social progressive. To quote the KXLH article –

White Wolf he said he’s not going to immediately reveal his stances on any major issues.

Instead, he plans to travel around the state listening to voters and trying to get the 12,000 signatures it will take to get on the ballot.

It sounds like he is serious about this candidacy and it raises a number of questions. Follow me for a second…

Traditionally, the Native vote in Montana has gone predominately Democrat. This shouldn’t come as any surprise given that it is usually the Democrats that are concerned about Native American issues and it is usually the Republicans that are trying to suppress the Native American vote (I wonder how Brad Johnson feels about a Native American in the US House Race?). More importantly, he is laser focused on the issue most likely to resonate with Montana voters – both Democrat and Republican – JOBS.

Usually, when there is a third party candidate in a Montana election, it is either a libertarian (see, the US Senate Race in 2012) or a Republican running as an independent to bypass a primary challenge. These candidates usually suck voters from the Republican side of the equation. With a Native American candidate, running on a platform designed around jobs and improving the Montana economy, will he take votes from the Republicans or the Democrats?

It will be interesting to see how this race develops. I can see Lewis taking a fairly significant lead before the Republican Primary is decided and I am not convinced that the Republican candidate will be able to bounce back enough to defeat Lewis in the general election – assuming that Shawn doesn’t upset the race with his campaign. Given Shawn’s online presence, as well as the online presences of the Republicans in this race, expect a loud, dirty and bloody campaign, though.

And before anyone asks, I am not picking a favorite in this race yet. I don’t know enough about all the candidates to pick this race. I will admit to liking Lewis at first blush. I definitely do NOT like a number of the Republican candidates (Brad Johnson needs to simply fall back under the rock he crawled out from under). I don’t know enough about Shawn White Wolf to like or dislike him, though I do like the focus he has already put on jobs. The telling point will be if he can actually follow up that focus with real, workable plans to address the issue. If he does – expect him to pick up a LOT of support.



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One Response to Breaking: Major Change in the Montana US House race

  1. I sure hope someone else pays the $1,700 and gets the signatures. I’m sure there are some young Montana democrats that can get a rich relative to give them the money. It’s a fast and relatively cheap way to get your name out into the state, making it easier for long-term political considerations.

    There are so few well-known democrats in this state that an opportunity like this shouldn’t be passed-up easily. Anyone that wants to have a presence in Montana politics in the next decade or two should give it a shot. And I don’t think the democrats should be angry someone wants to make their guy work – they should be happy he’s getting the practice!

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