Having failed to score a win in the Kansas special election and with Jon Ossoff not winning outright in Georgia, Democrats are turning their attention to the May 25 special election in Montana.

This special election is taking place to fill Montana’s only House seat to replace former Representative and current Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.  Rob Quist, the Democrat, is competing for Zinke’s seat against Republican Greg Gianforte.

Quist is a banjo-strumming cowboy who, according to the Washington Times, “hides his socialist leanings under a cowboy hat.”

Fresh from special election defeats in Kansas and Georgia, Democratic professionals and activists alike are focusing on the election to fill Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Montana congressional seat as one more chance to chip away at the Republican majority in the House. Their candidate in Montana is a 69-year-old country singer enamored of Bernie Sanders and the left wing of the new Democratic Party who would, if elected, be welcomed with open arms by the Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of the party as another foot soldier in the quasi-socialist resistance.

To get to Washington, however, Rob Quist faces the formidable task of convincing Treasure State voters that he’s more Montanan than socialist; that wearing a cowboy hat and riding the anti-Trump anger of fellow Democrats will get them to ignore his personal, professional and political record. Whether that will work remains to be seen, but even as he’s worked to moderate his public statements on hot button issues, Bernie Sanders‘ “resistance” has dumped some $2 million into his campaign, and “progressive” contributors who helped raise $8 million in an attempt to win a special election in Georgia are doubling down in Montana. Mr. Quist will have all the money he’ll need if he can get voters to buy what he’s selling or, ignore what he’s said in the past.

Aligning with the Bernie-Elizabeth Warren wing of the party, Quist turned down a visit from DNC chair Tom Perez in April, but had welcomed support from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

The Huffington Post reported at the time:

Rob Quist, the folk music star-turned-Democratic House candidate in Montana’s special election, declined an offer for the Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez to campaign for him in the state, an inside source says.

. . . . Montana has lately trended Republican in national elections, and a visible presence from the chair of Democratic Party could prove a liability among independents and Republican swing voters.

However, Quist has welcomed the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who the Montana Democrat backed in the 2016 presidential primary. Sanders announced this month that he would campaign for Quist some time before the May 25 special election.

It can’t hurt that Quist is running a populist campaign in the Sanders mold. He emphasizes his support for protecting Montana’s federally owned public lands and a single-payer health care system.

Quist had indeed voiced support for universal/single-payer healthcare, but he has now backtracked, changing his campaign’s Issues page to match.

The Congressional Leadership Fund captured the apparent flip-flop.

It looks like Montana’s out-of-touch candidate Rob Quist is attempting to change his tune. In recent days, amid CLF’s ad campaign exposing Quist’s views on universal health care as “out-of-tune” with Montanans, Quist changed his stance on that very issue on his website.

Montana voters won’t be fooled, Quist has already revealed himself as an extreme liberal, and now he’s just proving that he’ll say anything to get elected. Voters will reject him on both accounts.

On Healthcare

On His Previous Campaign Website, Quist Said He Was “For Exploring Universal Health Care Options For All Montanans.” “I stand for Montanans dealing with a health care system that is more interested in profit than people. I am for exploring Universal Health Care options for all Montanans.” (“Issues,” Rob Quist For Congress Via Internet Archive, Accessed 3/14/17)

 

(“Issues,” Rob Quist For Congress Via Internet Archive, Accessed 3/14/17)

Quist’s New Website Does Not Mention Universal Healthcare. “Rob stands with seniors and will protect Social Security and Medicare. Seniors have worked hard and paid into these systems for their entire lives– and should never have to worry about losing these crucial programs.” (Rob Quist For Montana, Accessed 3/14/17)

His current position on healthcare, via his campaign site’s Issues page:

Rob will fight to make sure all Montanans have access to quality, affordable health care. He will stand up to special interests and politically-motivated D.C. politicians who are attempting to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which helps keep Medicare strong and ensures Montana families aren’t broken by outrageous and prohibitive health insurance costs.

Montana Senator Steve Daines summed up Quist’s positions in a succinct tweet.

However unlikely Quist’s chances, Democrats are once more pinning their hopes on a special election to gin up their anti-Trump movement.

CNN reports:

The Big Sky state, where President Donald Trump soared to victory by more than 20%, is solidly Republican red, and Democrats haven’t managed to snag the state’s lone House seat in almost 20 years.

“And then, the Democrats picked a unique outsider candidate. A home-grown, musical star in Montana who … kind of came out of nowhere,” said Lee Banville, associate professor of journalism at the University of Montana.

Banville, who specializes in the intersection of politics and media, says in Quist, 69, Democrats have found a candidate who grew up in the humble town of Cut Bank, Montana, turned himself into a state-wide celebrity with his poetry and banjo and whose name has been well-known to locals for decades.

Add in an anti-Trump fervor among the Democratic base after a strong showing in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District and $2.5 million in contributions have begun flowing into Quist’s campaign.

The key, Democrats believe, to Quist’s possible (if unlikely) victory lies not only in his successfully hiding his socialism but in his populist appeal.

Politico reports:

In Montana, authenticity matters more than other places. One of the common slurs hurled at a political opponent is that he is “all hat, no cattle.” Quist has the hat—he favors a white Stetson—and if he sticks to a message that combines respect for personal privacy with concern for the economic well-being of our communities, he has a real chance to convince disaffected voters that Democratic candidates can focus on jobs and the economy just as effectively as Republicans. Attacking Gianforte for being a successful businessman will backfire in a state that admires entrepreneurs, but there is plenty of room for Quist to remind Montana voters that they need a voice in Washington who understands that if the Republican assault on health care is successful, tens of thousands of Montanans will be back to one health crisis away from economic ruin.

Quist’s personal story of a working middle-class life that was derailed by a botched gall bladder surgery and subsequent financial woes is one many Montanans have experienced.

. . . . A cowboy poet may not be the person most would have guessed would be the Democratic standard-bearer in the race for Montana’s House seat, but Quist represents an opportunity for the Democratic Party in the West to look forward by looking to its past. If the Democrats want to reestablish themselves in the prairie, they need to look to candidates who speak boldly about populist economic themes of shared responsibility and public good. And it certainly won’t hurt if they know how to handle a rifle, too.

Quist’s Twitter page doesn’t mention that he’s running as a Democrat; instead, he is running as an “independent voice”:  His profile reads:  “Montanan, musician. Running for U.S. Congress to be an independent voice for Montana.”

His tweets range from the folksy and populist to the starkly political as he boasts about being endorsed by the pro-abortion group NARAL.

The Cook Political Report has moved Montana from “Likely Republican” to “Leans Republican.”

Cook Political Report writes:

Gianforte enjoyed a double-digit lead for most of April, but the House’s passage of the AHCA may have given Democrats a fresh jolt of outrage right after vote-by-mail ballots dropped on May 1. In a sign of just how unpopular the legislation is nationally, Gianforte has refused to take a public position on the bill even while appearing to praise its passage on a conference call with donors. Up until now, the healthcare has been absent from ads.

In a late April Garin-Hart-Yang poll taken for Senate Majority PAC, Gianforte led Quist 49 percent to 43 percent. The AHCA and turmoil surrounding Trump’s firing of FBI Director Jim Comey could add uncertainty in the final two weeks, but Quist’s considerable baggage may prevent Democrats from taking advantage. Still, both parties are treating this as highly competitive contest, and for that reason it moves to the Lean Republican column.