Montana’s U.S. House race still the sleeper – but slowly creeping on the radar

Posted at 2:13 PM, Aug 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-09 16:17:19-04

HELENA – A Democrat hasn’t won Montana’s lone U.S. House seat for 24 years, but political prognosticators are saying in this unusual year, Democratic challenger Kathleen Williams could make things interesting.

“It could potentially be a very competitive race,” Carroll College political scientist Jeremy Johnson told MTN News this week. “Kathleen Williams is fundraising well, which suggests that donors see her as potentially a very competitive candidate.”

Williams, 57, a former state lawmaker from Bozeman, raised about $500,000 in the seven weeks ending June 30, and has since been traveling the state to talk up her record as someone who can work with Democrats and Republicans to get things done.

She’s challenging first-term Congressman Greg Gianforte, a Republican who won the seat in a special election last May. Libertarian Elinor Swanson, a Billings attorney, also is in the race.

Gianforte, co-founder of a Bozeman software-development firm, has been a faithful and enthusiastic supporter of President Trump, saying he stands behind the president’s agenda of tax cuts, supporting the military and strengthening U.S. borders.

His campaign says Gianforte is confident that Montana voters don’t want to “go back to the failed policies of the Obama era.”

Gianforte had about $1.4 million in his campaign account on June 30.

The campaigns have yet to run ads on regular TV, although both have digital ads on the Internet, including a Williams spot featuring her German wire-haired pointer.

Williams told MTN News this week that she’s running to be a congresswoman who will meet with and listen to all Montanans – something she says Gianforte isn’t doing.

“When people have something to say, I want to be there, listening to them in person, looking them in the eye,” she said.

Gianforte’s campaign says he’s been home every weekend from Washington, D.C., traveling the state and meeting with people and various groups. Just this week, he held a field hearing in Hamilton on federal forest policy.

While Gianforte goes into the final 90 days as the clear favorite, Johnson notes that female candidates and Democrats have been faring better than expected in many other congressional races around the country.

He says if women and younger voters turn out in greater numbers this fall, Williams may have a chance to pull an upset.

Johnson also says Williams has another possible advantage in her corner: Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who’s up for re-election in the state’s most-watched race.

“If Kathleen Williams can win many of the votes that Tester will get, she can run a competitive race,” he says. “That should be her goal. I think it’s helpful for her to have Tester on the ballot …I don’t know if Tester will win or not, but he’ll certainly run a competitive race and is favored to win.”