So in my last post, I took on the 2014 Montana US Senate Race. As of the time of this writing, very little has changed though there have been some interesting posts about this race on other blogs. I will recap some of them in another post. This one will be about the schizophrenic Montana US House Race.
This race would have been very simple had Steve Daines not bagged on running for re-election. Instead, he jumped into the Senate race when Sen Baucus announced that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election. Not to take anything away from Montana Democrats, but there are very few candidates that could have come forward with a reasonable chance to beat Daines had he sought re-election. This has nothing to do with Daines’s platform and everything to do with politics in Montana. I can expand on that later in a different post if anyone is interested but I digress from the focus of this post.
I will start with the easy one. The Democrats only have one candidate for the US House currently running – John Lewis, former state director for Senator Max Baucus. Another candidate – Melinda Gopher – announced she was running for the seat but later withdrew her candidacy. There are rumors that she is thinking about entering another race but as far as I can tell, she hasn’t officially declared for any. There are also a number of potential candidates on the Democratic side that have said they are considering it, but nothing official yet.
So who is John Lewis? I have to admit that I had no idea who he was until very recently. While I do pay attention to Montana politics, he is a relative unknown – mostly a “behind the scenes” kind of guy. He isn’t so behind the scenes now. He has already started to aggressively establish an issues based platform (and I like that he started with what he would do if he won rather than why people should not vote for his opponent). He is also active on social media and is aggressively campaigning. James Conner has a pretty detailed post on his blog, “The Flathead Memo” on why he feels that John Lewis stands a fair chance of winning this race. I like his work on the article, but there is a new wrinkle in this race that may derail Lewis’s chances. More on that later.
There is also an independent candidate that has declared – Shawn White Wolf, counselor for the Montana United Indian Association. I know nothing about this candidate so I will not even venture a comment on his candidacy. I need to do a lot more research on him.
Now we get to the really messy race. The Republicans currently have five declared candidates (though one of them has also expressed an interest in another race and claims he will give an answer this coming week on which race he is running in). The candidates currently are, Matthew Rosendale, a Montana State Senator from Glendive, Brad Johnson, a former Montana Secretary of State, Corey Stapleton, a former State Senator and failed candidate for Montana Governor in 2012, Drew Turiano, real estate investor, and Ryan Zinke, former State Senator and candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 2012. None of these candidates are all that strong and given the field, it is anyone’s guess at this point who the presumptive winner would be in a primary. My personal opinion, is that it would come down to Brad Johnson and Corey Stapleton as they have more name recognition in Montana.
I will save my take on all these candidates for later posts since there are some very colorful individuals on this list and a more in depth post is warranted on at least three of them. I will simply say that, of the five listed candidates, the “best of the bunch” in my opinion is Corey Stapleton and that isn’t saying much.
To add to this mess on the Republican side of the field, former US House Representative Denny Rehberg pulled a surprise announcement about a week ago that he is thinking of getting back into politics by running for his old seat. This news was first released on Aaron Flint’s conservative talk show and has since been picked up by various Montana news sources. Rehberg’s return has also been the topic of discussion on a few blogs in Montana, including Intelligent Discontent and Flathead Memo. The general take on the left is that Rehberg has burned his bridges, shown himself to be a liability and can’t beat a serious candidate. While I agree to some extent with that idea, I think they are underestimating the power of incumbency in Montana. Denny didn’t lose his seat because he lost an election. He gave up his seat to take a shot at running against a popular incumbent Senator (Senator Tester in 2012).
Consider the facts. Denny Rehberg is a multi-millionaire with moneyed interests in at least four separate large population areas. Yes, he is blowhard with a very public drinking problem but he is also a household name in Montana. He has a pre-existing support and campaign structure, a willing and able political machine and could easily have the backing and support of both the Montana Republican party (and their political PACS) as well as the National Republican Party (and their political PACS). The moment Denny announces his candidacy, he becomes the presumptive candidate to beat. I will state his flat out. There isn’t a single Republican candidate in the race or considering a run that can hope to defeat Rehberg in a primary. Even were the Tea Party to get completely behind one of the candidates (probably Rosendale given what I have seen of the candidates), they still wouldn’t amount to more than 25% of the primary vote. Rehberg would skate easily through the primary. The only question would be how serious a candidate Lewis is.
I am not saying Lewis couldn’t win if Denny enters the race. Lewis appears to be a smart candidate with a lot on the ball. As the former State director for Max Baucus, he had to have learned something about running a campaign in Montana and has to have constructed a serious network that he can tap now. One would presume that Max would also step in to help him out. All that said, what I think it would take is for Lewis to spend the next 10 months quite literally going to every single flea spec town in Montana and shaking every hand he lays eyes on. Further, it will take something I haven’t seen since Senator Tester’s race against Conman Burns – a concerted effort on the part of Montana’s Democrats to educate the electorate on Lewis and, more importantly – to GET OUT AND VOTE.
As it stands now, if Rehberg enters the race, unless something seriously changes in the way Montana politics work, Rehberg will go back to Washington as our US Representative. If Rehberg doesn’t enter the race, it will come down to either a race between Brad Johnson and Lewis (I think Lewis would easily win that one) or Corey Stapleton and Lewis (that one is still likely a Lewis win but he will have to fight for it).
This should prove to be an interesting race that is likely to be completely ignored because of the US Senate race. Lots can happen between now and November and just keeping track of the players will be hard in this race.