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Outsider Candidates Leveraging Very Different Reputations In Montana House Election

Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte
Bree Zender

The two major party candidates for Montana’s U.S. House seat were in Missoula Monday and Tuesday, at events that sharply contrast their different bases of support.

On Monday, Republican Greg Gianforte moderated a panel for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance at Missoula College. It wasn’t a campaign event, and he didn’t stump for votes or even mention the election, but his campaign did publicize his appearance there.

Gianforte founded the Business Alliance in 2014, about two years before he announced his intention to run for governor.

Gianforte made a name for himself by starting a software company called RightNow Technologies in Bozeman 24 years ago, eventually selling it to Oracle for $1.5 billion in 2011. He’s been an evangelist for growing what entrepreneurs call the start-up ecosystem in Montana. That’s what the High Tech Business Alliance is for.

"I, too, want to thank Greg and the Montana High Tech Alliance for all you’ve done to create this ecosystem," said Tom Stergois, an executive with Advanced Technology Group, a Missoula based IT consulting firm with clients around the world.

"The ecosystem existed before you started, but you’ve really been the nurturing leader," Stergois said.

Stergois made his comments at a High Tech Business Alliance event, not a political function. He in no way implied that he was endorsing a candidate, and made no mention of the election. But Stergois' comments demonstrate the kind of reputation Greg Gianforte has as a business leader in Montana.

Contrast that with Democratic Candidate Rob Quist’s event in Missoula Tuesday Morning.

It was at the Buttercup Café, where a couple of dozen people came out to hear Quist receive the endorsement of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Max Richtman, the committee's president said it sent questionnaires about preserving Social Security and Medicare to both Quist and Gianforte, and didn’t receive a response from the Republican candidate, but he liked the one they got from Quist:

U.S. House candidate Rob Quist.
Credit Eric Whitney
U.S. House candidate Rob Quist.

"There’s a lot of questions you answer, and then there’s a comment section, and he said he was resolute – resolute in protecting Social Security and Medicare."

The reputation Quist has made for himself in Montana as a folk singer isn’t explicitly political, but he’s now trying to leverage his public image to win Montana’s seat in the U.S. House. Part of that strategy is publicizing endorsements like ones from the Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare, Montana Conservation Voters and the state’s largest unions. 

Two different events in Missoula, featuring two political outsiders both trying to leverage very different kinds of reputations in Montana to win votes.

Absentee ballots have now been sent, those have to be in by May 25, the day in-person voting takes place.

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