Thursday, August 20, 2020

Race of the Day- Montana Governor

Montana Governor

75 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open

2016 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Leans Republican

I strive to give background and analysis on all of these races but admittedly, I do not know much about Montana Gubernatorial contests. I do know that a Republican has not won this office since 2000, and with the exception of one landslide loss, they have come close in defeat in every one since. Certainly, the party felt they were going to win those races at one point in time. This year, it may finally happen. Then again, it may not. I will not be all that surprised either way and the end result will probably be close. Circumstances seem to favor Republicans though winning at the moment, but that was probably also the case in past cycles, where I think I might have also predicted a GOP victory. Streaks are made to be broken of course.

Two term Democrat Steve Bullock is term-limited and cannot seek reelection. Fairly popular as Governor, Bullock ran for the White House last year, but a little known Democrat from Montana who was not seen as a staunch progressive stood little chance despite the fact that he obviously had proven he could win votes from Trump supporters. He won reelection while Donald Trump was carrying Montana by 20 points. Bullock has since pleased Democrats across the country by running for the U.S. Senate against an incumbent Republican, whom otherwise would be having a much easier ride. I will delve into that race tomorrow.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Democrats turned to Bullock's current Lt. Governor Mike Cooney to succeed him. A longtime figure in Montana politics, Cooney served three terms as Secretary of State between 1989 and 2001. He finished third though in a three way Gubernatorial primary in 2000 but quickly ran for the State Senate, where he rose to President and then eventually back to statewide office. In Montana, candidates for Governor pick their choice for Lt. Governor before the June primary, and Cooney is running with State House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner, in what is perhaps the only ticket in his party anywhere this year consisting of two straight white males. In the primary, Cooney was held to 55 percent of the vote by Whitney Williams, a businesswoman who came from a prominent political family. While Bullock was standing behind his Lt. Governor, the previous Democrat to serve eight years as well as Hillary Clinton had endorsed Williams.

The GOP side was a threeway contest but won easily by Greg Gianforte, the state's at large Congressman. He, and his running-mate, attorney Kristen Juras, took 53 percent of the vote while Attorney General Tim Fox took 27 percent and State Senator Albert Olszewski took 19 percent of the vote. Another candidate, the Republican Secretary of State, had dropped out to instead run unsuccessfully for the Congressional seat.

Despite his strong primary win, many thought Gianforte would be the Republican would would struggle the most in a general election. Raised on the East Coast, the candidate became wealthy in the software business and eventually a prominent philanthropist after moving to Montana in 1995. In the general election, he was competitive but lost to Bullock by four points, even as Trump was easily winning the state.

Having been bitten by the political bug, Gianforte ran in a 2017 special election for the state's Congressional seat after the incumbent became (relatively briefly) the Secretary of the Interior. He seemed headed to an easy win against a liberal Democrat before becoming enraged by a pesky (but professional reporter) the eve of the election. Gianforte body slammed the smaller man to the ground, punched him, and broke his glasses. Donald Trump would one day express his pleasure at this event, but many in the state were horrified. After some initial defensiveness of his action, Gianforte eventually apologized and plead guilty to misdemeanor assault in which he was fined and sentenced to community service. Had this happened earlier in the campaign, it might have become a major problem, but the Republican was able to hold on 50-44 and had one of the more auspicious Congressional starts in history. The 2018 race was somewhat overshadowed by a Senate campaign which was narrowly won by an incumbent Democrat, but in the House contest, Gianforte, despite some competitive polls won, albeit by just five points.

Almost immediately, the Congressman determined he really did not want to stick around Capitol Hill as part of the House minority and that he still wanted to be Governor. It is possible that some voters have a short memory and have forgotten about the body slamming incident, although Gianforte will likely be watched closely on the campaign trail to see how he performs under pressure. Truth be told, he probably should have won the Gubernatorial contest four years ago and his general election wins for Congress have been evidence of underperforming.

So, Democrats might possibly have their strongest possible nominee and Republicans have a candidate who has some unique vulnerabilities. Still, it may not matter. Polls right now tend to show a slight but confirmed lead for Gianforte. Democrats contend that Cooney, despite his long political background, is still not known as well in the state and they may be right. We have seen blue states become bluer though in recent years and red states become redder. This contest will also be overshadowed by the Senate race which could go either way.

An established incumbent, such as Montana Democrat Senator Jon Tester or a well known figure such as outgoing Governor Steve Bullock may find a way to win, but in an open race, in this particular state, the edge arrow has to point to Gianforte, provided he manages to behave himself.

Governor races predicted thus far: 
1 D (1 Likely)
3 R (1 Likely, 2 Lean)

Total with predictions thus far:

21 Democrats (20 holdovers, 1 Likely)
22 Republicans (19 holdovers, 1 Likely, 2 Lean)


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