HELENA – Two Democrats running to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte in 2018 have raised more than a half-million dollars in campaign funds between them – and a third Democrat appears poised to enter the contest.
Billings attorney John Heenan, the first Democrat to announce he would challenge Gianforte, reported raising $325,000 in August and September – including a $100,000 loan from his own pocket.
“When you run for office, you don’t know how it’s going to go – it’s like having a party and you don’t know if people are going to show up,” he told MTN News Tuesday. “(But) people are showing up. … There’s just been tremendous enthusiasm.”
And Grant Kier, a former land-trust director from Missoula, said he raised $192,000 in the last three weeks of September, after announcing his candidacy.
“I think people know that I’m in this race because I believe in Montanans’ ability to come together and solve problems, and they’re demonstrating that they believe in me and my message on that front,” he said.
Heenan and Kier may be joined in the race this week by state Rep. Tom Woods of Bozeman, who plans an announcement Thursday about his political plans.
Woods, an instructor at Montana State University, has scheduled a “campaign kickoff” event in downtown Bozeman.
The trio and any other Democrat who joins the race will square off in the June 2018 primary election for the right to face Gianforte, who won Montana’s U.S. House seat in a May 25 special election.
Gianforte, a high-tech entrepreneur and philanthropist from Bozeman, has said he intends to run for re-election next year. He hasn’t yet released his latest fundraising numbers. Campaign-finance reports for the three-month period ending Sept. 30 must be filed by this weekend.
The special election won by Gianforte was by far the most expensive U.S. House race in Montana history, generating nearly $20 million in spending by the candidates and outside groups.
Heenan said he plans to put plenty of miles on his vehicle as he travels the state to meet voters and talk about his record as an attorney.
“I have a track record of standing up to powerful companies and powerful special interests and winning, and I plan to bring that same formula that I’ve used as a prosecutor and a trial lawyer on behalf of the state of Montana and the people of Montana,” he said.
Kier, former director of the Five Valleys Land Trust in Missoula, said he thinks Democrats are excited about the 2018 U.S. House contest, because they see a chance to win a seat they haven’t held since 1996.
“We are excited about the candidates we’re bringing forward, and I’m proud to be in that group,” he said.