With less than a week left before the polls close, candidates running for office in Montana are scrambling to reel in votes. Democratic hopefuls converged on Kalispell Wednesday for a joint campaign stop along a 17-city statewide tour. MTPR's Nicky Ouellet talks with U.S. House candidate Denise Juneau about campaigning, voting, and why it matters.
Flanked by colorful posters promoting candidates for local, statewide and federal office, Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney riled up a crowd of 100 in the Flathead Democratic Party headquarters on Main Street.
"What a great turnout! Let's hear it for Flathead Valley! Who says there's no Democrats up here?" Cooney said.
The Flathead Valley is considered a battleground area for Democrats, but Denise Juneau, who’s running for Montana’s sole congressional seat, relishes the challenge.
I asked her to step away from shaking hands and snapping selfies for a minute to talk about her campaign.
Nicky Ouellet: How’s it going today?
Denise Juneau: I feel excitement. The get-out-the-vote effort is going really well. I do think we have the wind at our back and the momentum needed to win this race.
NO: The Flathead Valley is known for being pretty conservative. How do you feel you’ve been welcomed here?
DJ: I’ve done a lot of work up here as state superintendent. So I’ve been up here visiting the schools, they know me. As a Democratic candidate, every vote across the state helps. We collect the votes wherever they come from. Even though we may lose one area of Montana, we can make it up in another area. But all the votes that come out of here for me are going to matter.
NO: Speaking of scooping up the votes, you do have a very strong base with Democrats but this race probably won’t be won unless you can dip into the independent vote. Do you feel like you’ve done enough to attract voters?
DJ: Yeah sure, it is the work I’ve done as superintendent. All of my career has been focused on making sure the next generation is prepared and that we are having a pipeline for the economy to fill these skilled workforce areas we really need to beef up in Montana. So my work as superintendent has been effective all across the state. If people look at the record and they compare what’s happening in both of our elected positions, hands down I win.
NO: For someone who maybe voted for Zinke last time around, what would you say to them to win their vote?
DJ: I travel around the state a lot and I do meet people who voted for Congressman Zinke last time, and they say they thought he would do better. The fact that he hasn’t stepped up and done the job he’s been elected to do, the fact he auditioned to be Trump’s vice president, the fact that he wanted to be speaker of the house after 9 months on the job, the fact that he likes to be on the 24-hour news cycle. He’s more interested in looking out for what’s best for Ryan Zinke than actually doing the job he was elected to do. That’s what I hear from Montanans as I travel the state, and I think we will win them over because they can look at the record and see I’ve done the better job.
NO: What do those last couple days look like?
DJ: We are on this swing around the state – 17 communities we'll be hitting all across Montana to talk to voters to know that what we stand for and know our records and that we are going to really talk about the future of this state and what it looks like and draw the stark contrasts that are necessary. I plan to hold my opponent accountable to his lack of a non-record of looking out for Montana, and win over the voters of Montana, and that’s really the excitement around this last push across the state with all these statewide candidates. We’re going to work really hard to get out the vote and make sure that when we wake up after election day the headlines read that we win.
NO: Have you voted already?
DJ: I have voted. And I voted early and I encourage everyone in this state. We have early voting for a reason. Go bank those votes. You never know what’s going to be happening on Election Day.
NO: Is there anything else you want voters to know before they go cast that early ballot?
DJ: I would just say take a look at the candidates in each of these races. Particularly, when you look at this congressional race, look at the job that’s actually been done on behalf of Montanans. Did the candidate do the job that you elected them to do, or were they more interested in looking out for themselves? I think in this race, they’ll see Congressman Zinke has been looking out for himself, and I’ve actually done the job elected to do and face some big challenges, worked with communities, did grassroots efforts. I think Montanans hold the keys to our largest challenges, we just need to support them in those efforts. That’s been my entire leadership style, and I look forward to continuing that when I get to Washington.
NO: This is a hypothetical situation, but the blog Education Week is speculating that under a Clinton administration, they’re considering who might run the U.S. Department of Education -- your name came up. What do you think about that?
DJ: I think that’s really flattering that the education record and my record as superintendent is being noticed at the national level. It shows I’ve done a great job as superintendent and the leadership we’ve provided, primarily around Graduation Matters Montana. The fact that I’ve taken really hard stances against Obama’s education policies because they don’t fit our rural state. I think the idea we’ve been able to maintain a public education system in spite of everything going on in the country, and that we have a high quality system. I’m just really flattered that that record's been noticed across the country, and I think it speaks volumes for the teachers, administrators, and communities who are putting the hard work in to make sure that the future generations are being educated in a high quality system. I’m really flattered about that rumor, but you know I am really focused on making sure that I win this election. We have six days to go and I’m doing everything I can to make sure that we’re getting out the vote.
NO: Thanks so much for taking time today.
DJ: You bet. Thank you.