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Coronavirus concerns impacting Montana 2020 campaigns

Some candidates canceling public events
Posted at 5:01 PM, Mar 13, 2020

HELENA — Concerns about coronavirus are being felt on the Montana campaign trail, as several candidates for statewide office said Friday they’re postponing most public events.

Both Democratic candidates for governor – Mike Cooney and Whitney Williams – announced they are postponing planned statewide tours and campaign gatherings.

“It is unfortunate that we have to postpone our 56-county tour with just 50 days until the first Montana ballot is cast, but what’s important is that we keep our state safe and healthy,” she said.

Later Friday, Williams said the June 2 primary should be an all-mail ballot.

Candidates who said Friday they are canceling, postponing or scaling back in-person events are primarily Democrats – U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams, attorney general candidate Raph Graybill and U.S. Senate candidate John Mues.

On the Republican side, the candidates for governor said they’re not canceling anything yet – although Al Olszewski came to Helena for a pair of public events, only to see them canceled.

He had planned to attend the Made in Montana Trade Show and the Montana Medical Association’s interim meeting, both of which were canceled because of concerns about coronavirus.

“As a grassroots candidate, who needs to be out there shaking hands and kissing babies, this issue of social distancing, whether voluntary or enforced by the state, remains a challenge,” he said.

Olszewski also happens to be the only candidate who’s a physician – and said he’s not yet convinced that public events need to be canceled in Montana.

“The truth is, it should be proportional to the amount of COVID-19 within the state, and right now, there is zero COVID-19,” he said Friday afternoon. “My suggestion is, at this time, you should be vigilant.

“Make sure if you’re sick, don’t go out. If you have parents that are elderly and have medical problems or your children have compromised immune systems, keep them out of crowds. But other than that, if you’re healthy, if you’re active, continue to live your life.”

Yet several hours after Olszewski made that statement, Gov. Steve Bullock announced that four potential cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Montana, in Yellowstone, Lewis and Clark, Gallatin and Silver Bow counties.

GOP candidate Tim Fox’s campaign said it’s “monitoring the situation” and may adjust its schedule as things evolve.

“Tim’s main focus right now is on his attorney general duties and protecting the public,” his campaign said.

And Greg Gianforte’s campaign said it’s also “monitoring” things, but had no plans to cancel anything. He urged people to “stay calm and take precautionary measures to protect themselves,” like washing their hands, avoiding people who are sick and staying home if they are sick.

The first absentee ballots for the primary election will be mailed out in seven weeks. Any Montanans can request to vote by mail, through county election offices.