Last week, Republican Greg Gianforte defeated Democrat Rob Quist in Montana’s special election to replace Congressman Ryan Zinke who had vacated the state’s at-large seat to become the Trump administration’s secretary of the Interior Department.
Gianforte had run for office previously. He was defeated in his challenge to incumbent governor Steve Bullock by four points last year after out spending the incumbent two to one. This was Quist’s first attempt at elective office although he had been previously appointed by two Democratic governors to the state’s Arts Council.
Quist outraised Gianforte 6 million to 4.6 million (including 1.5 million of Gianforte’s own money). The outside money spent on the race was also colossal. An additional 7 million from Democratic outside groups and 3 million from Democratic Party affiliated organizations went to Quist. Similar amounts went to Gianforte.
Spending by the Democratic Party, liberal outside groups and Quist’s campaign totaled over 90 dollars per vote. Gianforte’s spending was not far behind. By comparison, Zinke spent only about 22 dollars per vote in 2016. Nationally in 2016, Hillary spent 26 dollars per vote and Trump spent just over 19 dollars per vote.
Clearly, the candidates, state parties, the national parties and partisan outside groups were totally invested in this election spending 3 to 4 times the amount per vote than normally expected.
Much of the media narrative about the race maintains that the DNC shrugged the race and, had it taken the race seriously, Quist may have won. The numbers do not bear this out. Quist had all the resources he could have possibly imagined — actually more than the Gianforte — and still lost.
Adding to his problems, Gianforte physically assaulted and battered a reporter on election eve earning him a misdemeanor assault charge by the authorities.
Thus, Greg Gianforte was: a losing candidate for governor; a weak fundraiser; a reporter-puncher; and, a man with all of the ordinary Republican earmarks of a plutocrat nominee destined for the loser column. So, what buoyed this outspent, hotheaded, gubernatorial loser to a win? Trump, that’s what.
Gianforte wisely aligned himself with Trump in utter lockstep. It was that stance that overcame his other shortcomings and delivered a win. "No," I hear you say, "It’s Montana — Republican central — he was going to win anyway," you crow. OK, let’s look a little closer.
Montana is not as red as is generally believed. The Big Sky State has one Democratic senator and a Democratic governor. In the last three presidential elections, McCain won the state narrowly by 2.2 percent, Romney did better at 13 percent, but Trump crushed with a 20 percent margin.
Clearly, Montana is a place where Democrats are competitive.
Yet, the media’s amateur and highly partisan narrative is: because Trump won by 20 percent, all Republicans should win with similar percentages and anything short of that is a referendum on Trump’s current popularity. Ergo, a 6 percent win for Gianforte is a big fall-off for Trump. Huh? (Now you can see why I call the media's narrative "amateur").
The DNC narrative is much more realistic and is quietly very afraid of Trump’s coattails in generally red states like Montana. The DNC fully understands that if a candidate like Gianforte can insulate himself from his own mistakes and an otherwise problematic campaign by binding himself to Trump, they've got trouble — big trouble.
In 18 months, we will go the polls for congressional elections. Of the 33 senators up for election, only eight are Republicans, 22 are Democrats and three are independents that caucus with the Democrats. Some of these Democrats are in states that Trump won big —like Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Missouri and Indiana. If their GOP challengers tie themselves to Trump and run with the president, these incumbents are going to have lots of trouble.
Obversely, Flake, Corker, and other Republican senators up in red states in 2018 should take notice and move closer to Trump not away from him.
Gianforte was a flawed candidate who was beatable. He battered a reporter the day before the election for goodness sake. This is no super candidate. His saving grace was that he campaigned on supporting President Trump who is wildly popular in states like Montana. Gianforte won because of his support for Trump — not in spite of it.
Had Gianforte ran from Trump (as the media requires of all "worthy" Republicans), he would have been destroyed at the polls.
I respect him for that and I am glad that he didn’t dump Trump. I hope that the 2018 candidates don’t run from Trump either. I like being in the majority.
Michael Patrick Flanagan represented the 5th District of Illinois in the historic 104th Congress. Prior to his Congressional Service, Michael was commissioned in the United States Army Field Artillery. Michael and his firm, Flanagan Consulting LLC, have represented both large and small corporations, organizations, and associations. In 2009, Michael entered public service again with the United States Department of State in Iraq as the Senior Rule of Law Advisor on the Maysan Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Maysan, Iraq. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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