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Zinke Campaigns On Strong Borders, National Defense In Kalispell

Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy campaign in Kalispell on Tuesday, August 9 2016.
Nicky Ouellet
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Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy campaign in Kalispell on Tuesday, August 9 2016.

Representative Ryan Zinke whipped a crowd of supporters to nationalistic fervor at a fundraiser in Kalispell Tuesday afternoon, focusing on such topics as the ailing economy, immigration reform and what he called the scandals of Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

"Status quo isn't working. That’s forced the government to do the right thing. And that’s where leadership comes in."

But for many of the 200 attendees, like Kalispell’s Sue Justis, Zinke’s chosen campaign partner was the main attraction.

"I'm a big fan of Trey Gowdy's," Justis said, "but I mean, I also appreciate Ryan Zinke and the job that he's doing for us, but I really wanted to hear Trey Gowdy."

Gowdy, of South Carolina, led the House Select Committee’s investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attack. It spent two years investigating potential misconduct on the part of the Obama administration and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The final report, which was released last month, found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Gowdy’s repeated calls to hold people in elected office accountable to the rule of law drew murmurs of agreement and cheers from the crowd.

"If you don't like it, change it. If you really don't like it, run for office. But by God, follow it if you're going to be the president of the United States," Gowdy said.

The focus of the afternoon was decidedly national. Neither of the Republican candidates even mentioned Zinke’s opponent in his bid for re-election for Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House — Democratic candidate Denise Juneau. Instead, the pair rallied against Hillary Clinton and squashing her presidential bid.

"Five out of the last six popular votes, the Republican party has lost. If that was your district attorney, you would fire him, if that was your cardiologist you'd be dead. Five out of six is not good," Gowdy said.

When it came to endorsing Whitefish’s homegrown politician, Gowdy praised Zinke’s many years of service as a Navy SEAL and what Gowdy called his balanced reasoning.

"I don't even bother to learn the names of most freshmen ... But I remember sitting by Zinke during a vote series."

Gowdy says he sought out Zinke’s advice on the vote because it was a military matter. Zinke outlined why he was voting one way, but also described why one might vote the opposite.

"And those kinds of people are rare in politics. I don't expect a member of Congress to be right all of the time. I do expect my member of Congress to be honest all of the time," Gowdy said.

For his part, Zinke balanced a general discontent with the status quo, with optimism that it can be changed.

"In the two years I've been on the Hill I haven't seen one problem that is not within the span and power of this great country to fix," Zinke said.

He outlined three things he thinks will turn the country around: supporting economic freedom and prosperity, strengthening national defense to include our borders, and defending the constitution.

"If we can't agree as the constitution is our guide, then there's probably not much we can agree on as a people."

Congressman Zinke declined to be interviewed after the rally, citing a tight schedule.

People attending Zinke’s rallies this week are asked to pay $25 per individual or $35 per family. A campaign staffer said this is to ensure a family-friendly environment.

Zinke and Gowdy scheduled similar rallies in Hamilton and Missoula Wednesday, and Bozeman on Thursday.

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