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Republican Candidates Duel Over Delegate Count

Republican candidate Greg Gianforte (left) says he has secured enough of his party's delegates to win its nomination for the special U.S. House election in May. But State Senator Ed Buttery (right) says he thinks Gianforte is wrong.
Republican candidate Greg Gianforte (left) says he has secured enough of his party's delegates to win its nomination for the special U.S. House election in May. But State Senator Ed Buttery (right) says he thinks Gianforte is wrong.

Republican candidate Greg Gianforte says he has secured enough of his party's delegates to win its nomination for the special U.S. House election in May. But State Senator Ed Buttery says he thinks Gianforte is wrong. Buttrey is also vying for the GOP nomination.

The party holds its nominating convention this Monday, March 6 in Helena. The election to fill the seat vacated by now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is May 25.

Here's Gianforte's claim:

Greg Gianforte: One hundred and twenty of the delegates have now committed their support at the convention, and that 120 represents about 140 of the votes, which is a majority of the delegates.

Eric Whitney: Republican delegate votes are weighted based on turnout in the previous primary election. That's how 120 delegates can add up to 140 votes.

But Ed Buttrey questions Gianforte’s accounting:

Ed Buttrey: I absolutely don't think that he's got those electors locked up at this point. I think he did at the very beginning of the process, but he doesn’t anymore.

EW: Buttrey has been doing his own tallying.

EB: I know many of those folks have come over to me, as well as other candidates.

EW: Are you comfortable sharing how many delegates are committed to you at this point?

EB:  No, I'm not. Like I said, I've kept that pretty close to vest. There'll be a lot of surprises, but I can tell you that a lot of folks that were on that initial list of Greg's have switched to one of the other candidates.

GG: Well, I have the highest respect – this is one of the fortunate things in the Republican Party right now, we have a lot of people with a lot of skills and a lot of abilitites. And I'm a big believer in Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment. Those 120 were committed in writing to us, mostly through emails and text. I called most of them last week and re-confirmed them, and I didn’t see any attrition.

EW: The "11th commandment" Gianforte referred to is Ronald Reagan's quote that Republican candidates shall not speak ill of one another. In our interview, Gianforte also pointed out that he's raised more than $825,000 for his campaign in the last five weeks.

Ed Buttrey says when it comes to campaign spending, he agrees with statements made by Ken Miller, a former state senator who is also running for the GOP nomination.

EB: Money will not be an issue in this race. Whoever the candidate is from the R side, and whoever the candidate is from the D side is going to have a lot of money. That's not gonna be the issue. I think there's gonna be lots of f0lks on the ground, boots on the ground, coming from all areas. I think the biggest issue is simply electability. I'm doing fine with money. We've certainly got more than we can use right now, and money is pouring in for all the candidates. It's just not going to be the big issue.

EW: Some GOP delegates may feel that Gianforte lacks electability because he was unable to unseat Steve Bullock in the governor's race in November. Here's what Gianforte has to say about that:

GG: We ran a hard governor’s race, and it's difficult. In fact when we started people said, taking on a popular incumbent will not be successful. As it was, we were ahead 2,000 votes at midnight on election night. It got awful close, a lot closer than anyone thought possible. In the latest poll we did, I was leading the two top Democratic contenders in this race by, in both cases, by double digits. SO we have strong support from the state. And the Name ID we've been able to build by being on the road and visiting folks is so important. I built a lot of relationships in a lot of corners of the state, I think I have my finger on the pulse.

EB: You have to look at the last election and figure out why Ryan Zinke and Donald Trump won, and Greg Gianforte didn't. It's gonna come down to who's going to carry the middle, and who's going to carry some of the folks from the left. If you carry the right, the middle, and a little bit of the left, you can't lose, and that's why Ryan Zinke was so successful. And so a lot of people have listened to that message. We know that Greg would get in — if he were to win election — he would get in and he would leave after two years to run for governor and we're right back where we started. I think that message has hit home with the central committee folks that we need someone that's willing to commit to the long term. The appropriations arm of Congress is something that we have not had seniority in for a long time, and we need someone who's going to commit to getting that seniority.

EW: The Republican party holds its nominating convention for the special election to fill Montana’s seat in the U.S. House this Monday, March 6. The Democrats hold their convention one day prior, on Sunday the 5. Both conventions happen at the Great Northern Hotel in Helena.

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