Voter Voices On Montana's Upcoming Special Election
As of today there are 76 days until the special election that will choose a replacement for former Montana Representative Ryan Zinke’s House seat. It will be a quick campaign for Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist, one that political junkies say will rely heavily on name recognition.
To get a sense of what Montanans from across the state are thinking about the election, I went to the State Class Double-A basketball tournament in Great Falls.
My questions met a mixed bag of responses. A lot of people weren’t interested in talking about the election.
"I'm not 100 percent comfortable with either one of those choices," said Russ Kellogg.
Kellogg is a band teacher in Great Falls. I caught him courtside on the bleachers while his students blasted “The Hey Song.” Kellogg considers himself economically Republican and socially Democrat. He said he knows Rob Quist from Montana’s music scene:
"But the problem I have is he obviously has no experience governing. He's a good guy and a decent human, and I really honestly don't know Gianforte either," Kellogg said.
Chris Schmidt watched the start of her hometown Great Falls Rustlers game against the Helena Capital Bruins from nosebleed seats in the Four Seasons Arena court. She’s for Gianforte.
"Change, we need change," Schmidt said. "We need not to spend so much money that we don't have to spend, and spend it on the right things."
Schmidt said the right things are jobs, education and cheaper energy. She said she’s not sure why Quist is running and guesses it’s because he’s well-known, kind of like Gianforte.
"They're not political guys, and I like that."
I stood around outside for a while after being told I couldn’t talk politics inside the arena. That’s where I bumped into Tom Moore of Great Falls:
"I think it will be interesting to see how Rob Quist presents himself in terms of a political candidate, he's a great entertainer, right," Moore said. "Watched him for a long time in that arena, but don't know much about his politics. I know quite a bit about Gianforte's politics."
That said, Moore said he’s waiting to hear more from Quist before he decides who he’ll cast a ballot for:
"I want to hear some specific things instead of general, we're going to do something with healthcare reform, and we're going to do something with immigration problem. I want to hear some specifics, I don’t want to hear we’re going to do something. I want to hear what he thinks he’s going to do. I’d like to hear both candidates be more specific about what they think they can accomplish if we put them in office representing Montana."
Moore added he’s a bit disappointed Senator Ed Buttrey of Great Falls didn’t get the Republican nomination.
Susan Caldwell left Missoula at 5:00 a.m. to catch the first game of the tournament. She says she’s disappointed Amanda Curtis didn’t clinch the Democratic nomination.
"I'm getting over myself," Caldwell said.
She’s now throwing her support behind Quist:
"It looks like we're running the polar opposites. We've got the pretty conservative, pretty dug in Republican, and then the pretty progressive Democrat."
I point out a Democrat hasn’t held Montana’s lone House seat in over two decades, but that doesn’t phase Caldwell. She still thinks Quist can win:
"I definitely think so," Caldwell said, "because I think ‘Forte almost has a reputation of not representing best of Montana. So if Rob Quist can make a case that he represents the best of Montana, and not get too polarized, that he is for humans, and for people getting a fair shake, I think he can. I’m an optimist."
Not everybody I talked to was engaged in the upcoming special election. I even told a few people who the candidates are. With campaign ads already blanketing the airwaves, and candidates motivated to sell themselves to voters quickly, it’s unlikely that will remain the case for long.