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In Montana, an election shows a deepening partisan divide

Gianforte wins a House seat after millions of dollars in spending.

On May 25, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte won an open seat in the House of Representatives, left vacant by Ryan Zinke who was appointed Secretary of the Interior. Gianforte, a businessman who had previously run for governor, faced Democrat Rob Quist, who ran on a populist platform. The election was fueled by record-breaking numbers of out-of-state campaign donations. Even an assault on a reporter by the Republican candidate in lockstep with a historically unpopular president on the eve of the election did not push voters towards the Democratic candidate. 

Congressman Greg Gianforte stands atop Granite Peak in Montana.
Courtesy Greg for Montana

In the West this year, Montana, California and Utah have special elections for House seats. Both parties are watching to figure out what they’ll need to do to either seize more seats, or keep the ones they have during the midterm elections in 2018. In Montana, at least, the special election proved that Republicans and Democrats face splintered bases heading into midterms.

In the special election, Montana political parties nominated their candidates, offering a glimpse of party strategy. For Montana Republicans, there were echoes of the question facing the party nationally: What does it means to be a Republican? That question has been asked repeatedly since norm-defying Donald Trump was elected in 2016. “(The election) really was a referendum on Montana voting for Trump,” says Jerry Johnson, political science professor at Montana State University. Trump won Montana with a 20 percent margin. Gianforte won by a much slimmer margin, just 7 percent, with the help of $6.3 million in out-of-state money from Republican super PACs, as well as $1 million of his own. 

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Comments about this article

Richard Crow Subscriber
Jun 08, 2017 04:01 PM
So the Republican was "far right" but the Democrat who is a Sanders supporter isn't far left? Even the Democrats think Sanders is far left. That is why the Democrats are losing the special elections that are being held. It's not that the Republicans are so great. It's because the Democrats are the party of criminal and delusional Clinton, plus Sanders, Pelosi and Reid. And lets not forget goofy Biden.
Jim Bolen Subscriber
Jun 12, 2017 04:05 PM
The Democrats have not really changed. They are supporting the same issues that they did 30 years ago. I don't agree with everything that Bernie or the Democrats support but for the most part they are the party of moderation .
If supporting a right to decent health care, protecting the safety net for common people and Environmental protection is radical, then I guess I am radical. The Republicans use to support these issues but have abandoned all the above. Yes they are far right and I am frightened for this country as how far they will go

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