HELENA – In Montana’s special U.S. House race, Bozeman businessman and Republican Greg Gianforte is coming back for a second bite at the political apple – and this time, he’s the favorite to win.
Gianforte spent more than a year and $6 million of his own money trying to win Montana’s governorship last year, but came up a few thousand votes short, losing to incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
Now, with the help of national Republicans and campaign experience under his belt, Gianforte hopes to win the May 25 special election next week for Montana’s sole congressional seat.
“I’ve spent most of my life here in Montana, creating jobs,” he told a crowd of supporters in East Helena last week. “I feel a deep sense of obligation and duty to serve. … That’s why I’m running – because what we have in this country is precious.”
Gianforte, 56, is competing against Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks for Montana’s U.S. House seat, which was vacated March 1 when Republican Ryan Zinke resigned to become U.S. Interior secretary.
Most polls made public have shown him with a comfortable, but not commanding, lead.
Gianforte is the former head of RightNow Technologies, a software-development firm that he and his wife, Susan, founded in Bozeman in the mid-1990s.
A pioneer in “cloud” computing and Internet-based customer-service software, RightNow grew to employ some 500 people in Bozeman and had an international customer base.
It was sold to Oracle Corp. in 2012 for $1.8 billion, earning the Gianfortes a few hundred million dollars.
Gianforte has long been a staple of GOP politics in Montana, as a donor and a voice for conservative economic and social policies, but didn’t run for office until his gubernatorial venture.
Once it became clear that Zinke would get the Interior job early this year, Gianforte started gearing up for the next campaign and easily bested a multi-person field for the GOP nomination at a party convention March 6.
The themes of his campaign for the U.S. House closely resemble positions he touted during the governor’s race: Lower taxes, less regulation on businesses, repealing the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), cutting government spending, a strong military, “secure borders” and unfettered gun ownership.
The difference, however, is that he’s now fully embracing the agenda of President Donald Trump, who won Montana by 20 percentage points last November.
He points with approval to Trump actions such as a green light for the Keystone XL Pipeline, repeal of the Clean Power Plan, movement toward repealing “Obamacare” and appointment of conservative Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The Trump administration is making progress,” he told MTN News. “I look forward to being a strong voice for Montana back in Washington, to work with the administration to advance Montana’s interest.”
Gianforte also is pro-life on abortion and personally opposes gay marriage, but has downplayed his social views to concentrate on economic themes.
For example, he says his skills as a CEO of an international company will come in handy in Congress, where Montana has only one voice among many.
“I spent most of my time at RightNow Technologies negotiating contracts with large corporations … and Montana won,” he says. “I’m going to put my negotiation skills to work, to make sure that Montana punches above its weight in D.C.”
He’s also tried to outflank Democrats on an issue that hurt him during the gubernatorial campaign: Public lands.
Gianforte sued the state in 2009 in a dispute over a fishing-access easement on his Bozeman property. Democrats used the action to pummel Gianforte as an enemy of public access and a supporter of selling off federal lands.
Gianforte has gone out of his way to say he absolutely opposes selling public lands and is a strong supporter of public access, often appearing in campaign ads in hunting gear.
While Gianforte is considered the favorite, national Republican groups aren’t taking any chances. They’ve poured more than $4 million into TV ads and mailers bashing Quist, and Gianforte himself has put another $1 million of his money into the campaign, on top of more than $2 million in donations.
Donald Trump Jr. and Vice President Mike Pence also have campaigned in Montana for Gianforte, saying he’ll be a needed ally for President Trump.
Gianforte told MTN News he’s on board with the GOP agenda and President Trump:
“We have a Republican-controlled House, we have a Republican-controlled Senate, and now the administration,” he said. “There is a unique opportunity to bring confidence back to our federal government. And I look forward to working with the administration on that.”