One would not think there is much ado about Montana, but recent dissension within the GOP ranks have been evident for years now. Don Kaltschmidt was elected state chairman earlier in 2019 and vowed to bring the party together. One thing that was brought to light by a former chairman, Jeff Essman: previously, it was difficult to recruit candidates for office/ not any more. In 2020, only state superintendent of public education Elsie Arntzen, who is seeking reelection, will be the only Republican not having a primary opponent.
This is important, as Essman notes, because previously with two unknowns on the ballot, the vote went to the Democrat by default. That has changed over the years and now the person with the “R” after their name has become the default candidate. As proof, in 2016, a majority of voters in Cascade county voted for Republican candidates and the party is targeting the same results in Butte-Silver Bow county. Senator Jon Tester and governor Steve Bullock were the only two Democrats to win a statewide election after 2012.
As for the presidential sweepstakes, the state party and voters appear to be firmly behind President Trump. At their annual meeting, the theme was the socialist tilt of the Democrats as a unifying message. Senator Steve Daines said the election came down to a choice between socialism and freedom and only the Senate was “a firewall” against that eventuality.
The big race on the ballot in 2020 is for Governor where Democrat incumbent Steve Bullock is term-limited. This is where things start to get interesting. Greg Gianforte has decided to step down as the state’s representative in the House and run for the Governor’s office. That, of course, has opened up a US House seat. Gianforte’s decision has come under sharp criticism from some within the GOP in Montana.
Some have portrayed this as bitter infighting among the conservative and moderate elements in the Montana GOP. Llew Jones is the leader of the legislative Solutions Caucus which seeks moderation over party purity. Referred to as the “Republican shift,” Jones said that Gianforte’s decision caused other Republicans to change their plans. Secretary of state Corey Stapleton, whom many had touted as a gubernatorial candidate, decided to instead run for Gianforte’s House seat. That leaves Gianforte to battle state attorney general Tim Fox and state senator Al Olszewski in the primary. Adding to the intrigue, Gianforte offered Olszewski a spot on the ticket as his running mate which he has refused so far.
Fox blasted Gianforte’s move. This will be Gianforte’s fourth statewide race in five years. Fox has stated that by leaving the US House seat an open race, it leaves it vulnerable to a takeover by the Democrats. It should be noted that split-ticket voting in Montana often happens. As for that House seat, the Club for Growth has attacked Stapleton over his move as they have skin in the game by favoring a potential candidate- Matt Rosendale. Should Gianforte win the nomination, he intends to put his association with Trump front and center. Needless to say, Democrats have targeted the open seat.
State representative Derek Skees, a conservative, has had his run-ins with the more moderate Solutions Caucus. However, he views the schism as one of power, not necessarily ideology. When members of the Solutions Caucus failed to get any leadership positions in the party or legislature, they decided to exercise their power in a different manner by forging compromises with Democrats or the governor. Should the GOP win the governor’s race, regardless of who it is, the need to compromise will no longer be there.
Skees made another good point. While everyone is talking about these problems with the GOP, the Democrats in Montana and nationally are in worse shape.
In neighboring Idaho, Raul Labrador won a close vote (111-109) over Tom Luna to become state party chief. He succeeds Jonathan Parker as party chief who resigned amid a nasty divorce where he was charged with stalking his estranged wife and masturbating outside her home.
Idaho is a fast-growing state in terms of population. Unlike other high-growth states in the west, the liberal trends are not being exhibited. For example, in 2013, 38.2% of voters were registered Republicans compared to 7.6% Democrats. In six years, Republican registration has grown to 50.8% of all voters.
This increasing population and GOP registration numbers is pushing Idaho further to the right rather than the left as is seen in other states in the area. While Democrats have seen their registration rolls increase over the past year by 52,600, GOP registration has increased 200,000. More Democrats voted in Idaho in 2018 compared to other midterm years, but their candidates lost by larger margins. Thus, it becomes obvious that in Idaho, although Democrat registration is increasing, it is being far outpaced by Republicans. Thus, as states like Washington, Nevada, Colorado and even Arizona become a little bluer, if not navy blue, due to transplants from mainly California, that trend is the opposite in Idaho.
This could be the one state where you may not see a Trump appearance in 2020.