News & Politics

Montana Dem Candidate Turns Down Visit from DNC Chair Perez

Musician and political novice Rob Quist smiles after wining the Montana Democratic Party's nomination for the May 25 special election, in Helena, Mont., Sunday, March 5, 2017. Quist on Sunday captured the Democratic nomination for the May 25 special election to fill the state's only congressional seat. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

The Democratic candidate to fill Montana’s only House seat in the special election on May 25 declined an invitation from Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez to campaign on his behalf. Rob Quist will square off against tech millionaire Greg Gianforte to fill the vacancy created when Rep. Ryan Zinke resigned his seat to serve as President Trump’s interior secretary.

Quist is a musician and poet who will perform, well, just about anywhere. Last week, it was discovered that he performed several times at a nudist camp, with his state of dress — or undress — while performing unknown.

The district is heavily Republican and the national party isn’t going to send any resources to help. But Quist is banking on assistance not from Chairman Perez but from Senator Bernie Sanders, who enjoys some popularity in the state.


The national Democratic Party has endured criticism from progressive activists for failing to provide support to Quist and other long-shot special election candidates. But some Democratic operatives argue that their involvement can nationalize a race in a way that is sometimes unhelpful to candidates running in Republican-leaning districts.

On its face, Quist’s decision to reject the DNC’s offer of in-person assistance affirms this theory. Montana has lately trended Republican in national elections, and a visible presence from the chair of Democratic Party could prove a liability among independents and Republican swing voters.

However, Quist has welcomed the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who the Montana Democrat backed in the 2016 presidential primary. Sanders announced this month that he would campaign for Quist some time before the May 25 special election.

It can’t hurt that Quist is running a populist campaign in the Sanders mold. He emphasizes his support for protecting Montana’s federally owned public lands and a single-payer health care system. In a not-so-subtle dig at GOP opponent Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire who moved to Montana from New Jersey, Quist ran an ad criticizing the disproportionate number of millionaires in Congress.

With less than a month to go, Quist needs all the help he can get. He announced a $1.3-million fundraising haul earlier this month, but a new poll shows him trailing Gianforte by 15 points.

I think it interesting that Quist would criticize millionaire senators while embracing the millionaire socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.

Democratic media outlets like HuffPo always mention Gianforte’s move from New Jersey. Montana hates carpetbaggers, except Gianforte made the move from the Garden State 24 years ago. That’s OK — Quist needs all the help he can get.

As the recent Democratic “unity tour” showed with Perez and Bernie Sanders on a multi-state swing, the Democrats are woefully divided and haven’t a clue how to get back in the game. Their brand is toxic enough in Montana that Quist politely declined Perez’s kiss of death assistance.

The Washington Times highlights one of the major issues in the campaign:

Mr. Quist is betting that what worked for the governor might work for him. After being caught by the Gianforte campaign suggesting either a ban on or registration of semi-automatic firearms he and many progressives prefer to call “assault weapons,” he reversed field and cut a television commercial during which he shouldered a rifle and shot out a television screen, declaring that he “won’t stand by while a millionaire from New Jersey tries to attack my Montana values.” Mr. Gianforte isn’t letting him wiggle away, however, and is running ads in which he says, “Some folks just don’t get it. Our Second Amendment rights are not up for negotiation.”

The National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups have weighed in on Mr. Gianforte’s side and while the race is about far more than the Second Amendment, Montanans don’t generally take kindly to candidates who agree more with former President Obama and the leadership of a party dedicated to weakening or abolishing their rights. Mr. Quist will no doubt spend more between now and when voters go to the polls on May 25 and intends to stump the state with Mr. Sanders, his hero and biggest backer. But Mr. Gianforte has friends, too. President Trump was there last week after Donald Trump Jr. an avid sportsman and firearms enthusiast who spends a good deal of time hunting in Montana, campaigned for several days with Mr. Gianforte.

While most polls show Gianforte ahead comfortably, the wildcard in the race is Libertarian candidate Mark Wick. One poll shows Wick with 11%, taking far more supporters from Gianforte than from Quist. The Google Consumer survey is an internet poll, however, with a very small sample.

But as long as Gianforte isn’t exposed as some kind of weirdo or wife beater, he should have no trouble dispatching the competition.