HELENA — In an unusual development in Montana’s high-profile U.S. Senate race, the Montana Libertarian Party announced Sunday it will name a new candidate to replace one who filed and then dropped out shortly before the filing deadline last Monday.
Libertarian Party Chair Sid Daoud said the party’s central committee will meet Tuesday evening to choose a candidate – the day before the apparent deadline to name a replacement.
Roger Roots, the Libertarian candidate for state auditor this year, said on his Facebook page late last week that the original candidate who filed – Eric Fulton of Whitefish – was “almost certainly a plant” by Republicans to fool Libertarians into thinking they had a candidate in the Senate race.
Fulton filed as a Libertarian on Friday, March 6, and then withdrew shortly before the filing deadline March 9, leaving the race without a Libertarian candidate.
“The Republicans try this right before every U.S. Senate race, in order to trick the Libertarian Party into not placing a true Libertarian candidate in the race,” Roots wrote. “Usually we are wise enough to realize what they’re doing.
“This year they fooled us. Congrats Republicans! Well played.”
Daoud said Republicans often pressure Libertarians to drop out of important, close races, on the presumption that a Libertarian draws votes away from the Republican candidate.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s entry into the U.S. Senate race last Monday transformed the contest into the top race in the state and one of the top U.S. Senate contests in the country.
The general election contest between Bullock and Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines is expected to be a close, expensive and hard-fought race, and could play a role in which party controls the U.S. Senate next year.
Fulton has not replied to emails from MTN News, asking why he changed his mind and withdrew last week.
Fulton ran as a Republican for a state legislative seat in Bozeman in 2014 and has donated to Republican candidates in the past.
Daoud, however, said Sunday he has no proof that Fulton was a Republican plant and that he’s been trying to meet with him, after initially communicating with him via email, after he filed March 6.
“He seemed earnest at the time,” Daoud. “I don’t know what the actual story is there. I’ll try to get Fulton to sit down with me.”
Daoud said state law appears to allow the Libertarian Party to name a replacement candidate in a race, if the candidate who filed late withdraws, and leaves the contest without a Libertarian. The deadline for naming a replacement is Wednesday, he said.
The Libertarian Party is asking for nominations to be submitted to its central committee by 5 p.m. Tuesday, after which the committee will choose a nominee to be placed on the primary election ballot, Daoud said.