The candidates for Montana’s seat in the U.S. House, Kathleen Williams and Greg Gianforte, have released their latest fundraising numbers, and Montana State University Political Science Professor David Parker says there’s a pretty big surprise in them. I spoke with him earlier today.
David Parker: The Gianforte campaign reported a little over $800,000; The Williams campaign close to $600,000. But the key here is, the devil is in the details. If you dig down, if you look at the money that comes in after the primary, so actually includes a couple weeks before the primary and then all the money after. Kathleen Williams out-raised Greg Gianforte by about $100,000.
Eric Whitney: Are you surprised at all by the strength of the Williams fundraising efforts?
DP: The first thing that's interesting is, she did have a pretty lackluster fundraising effort before the primary, but it seems to be the case after the primary is that Democrats circling the wagons and putting a ton of money into her campaign. It'd be interesting to see if they can sustain that. If you look at that success, that's better than we've seen when John Lewis was running, and Denise Juneau in that quarter that comes after the primary. So, am I surprised? Well, it demonstrates that Democrats are gonna rally around whoever the nominee is. The key here is can she sustain that fundraising. If she can, then this is a bonafide, real challenge to Greg Gianforte moving forward.
The other thing that's interesting is, you always got to look at where the money's coming from. These are contributions. These are not loans from Kathleen Williams. This is not money from Kathleen Williams. Whereas in the past, Greg Gianforte, it looks like, if I read the report correctly, Greg Gianforte gave himself either a quarter of a million or half a million dollar loan around the 17th of May.
EW: Gianforte raised around $800,000 and it's unclear how much of that came from a campaign loan?
DP: No, that's how much he raised, it looked like was about $800,000. But there was an additional loan that he gave his campaign that's not included, it seems to be reported on May 15.
And the reason why I think the money raised is really really important is that shows how you're connecting with the donor base. Raising money is qualitatively different then actually just giving yourself a loan. But in terms of just sheer contributions, Kathleen Williams did out-raise Greg Gianforte by about $100,000 after the primary.
Broadly speaking, it is unusual for a challenger at any point in a race to out-raise an incumbent. Now, if you look at cash on hand, there's no doubt Greg Gianforte has more cash on had, about $1 million, a million plus, where Kathleen Williams is reporting $400,000. But, I guess the primary tells us one lesson, and reminds us, you don't have to have the most to win, you have to have enough. And this indicates she's off to a good start.
EW: Republicans have held Montana's House seat for more than 20 years now, and it seems like it can be hard to rally support for Democrats for what seems like a safe Republican seat. Do you think these strong fundraising numbers for Kathleen Williams show that the Democrats feel like Gianforte is vulnerable, or there is some kind of "blue wave" happening here?
DP: So, he's certainly vulnerable, just because he's not a true incumbent in the sense that he won a special election, and he didn't win it by a great amount, there's that. Two, he's vulnerable because of the incident that occurred on the eve of the primary with him assaulting a reporter. Three, Cook's Political Report has moved the race from "likely Republican" to "leaning Republican," which is suggestive. Fourth, the fundraising money indicates that, I think, Democrats think they have a real opportunity to take this seat. Now, all of that said, today if I had to bet I would still think that Greg Gianforte is in the catbird seat, and I still think that this is his race to lose. However, I think Democrats sense, perhaps for the first time in twenty years that they have a real chance to perhaps pull off the unthinkable. Whether that happens or not, I think is largely in the hands of whether or not this is a wave election or not. I think this seat could flip to Democrats, yes — If this turns out to be a wave type midterm election where Democrats are picking up somewhere like 40, 50 or 60 seats as opposed to 25.
EW: David Parker thanks for joining us at Montana Public Radio
DP: It's good to talk to you as always.
EW: David Parker teaches political science at Montana State University.