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2014 Primary Predictions

Recent elections have demonstrated the challenge of predicting primary elections in Montana. The lack of polling, low turnout, and low-information voters have made the unbelievable almost predictable in recent years, as the primary wins of Bob Kelleher and John Driscoll demonstrate. That being said, these are my predictions for this Tuesday’s primary.


There has never been any real question about whether or not Steve Daines would win this race, once he decided to back into it. The Republican leadership has backed Daines from the outset, and he has refused to even debate his over-matched opponent. The interesting number coming out of this race will be the margin of victory. If Champ Edmunds pulls more than 20% of the vote, despite the heavy odds against him, it might indicate that Daines will have the same problem with the TEA Party flank that killed Dennis Rehberg’s chances in 2012.


There shouldn’t be any drama in this race, either. John Lewis, either because he learned the lesson from Jim Hunt’s disastrous primary against John Driscoll in 2008 or because he’s got an excellent background in campaigning, worked hard from his entry into the race, raising enough to ensure victory in June and be competitive in November.

Voters Go To The Polls In Michigan Primary
ROYAL OAK, MI – FEBRUARY 28: John Vandermark wears his ‘ I Voted’ sticker after voting on primary day.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


I just don’t see either Dirk Adams or John Bohlinger pulling off the upset against Senator Walsh, for a few reasons:

  1. Neither Bohlinger nor Adams raised nearly enough money to get their message out to Montana voters. It’s not a sign of strength that the two were forced to carpool to Democratic events.
  2. Both Adams and Bohlinger have been far more interested in attacking Democrats; John Walsh has focused his energy on critiquing Steve Daines.
  3. Both are positioning themselves as the “progressive candidates” in the race, which will likely split the anti-Walsh, anti-moderate vote.
  4. Democratic primary voters are unlikely to vote in large numbers for a lifetime Republican who has been hostile to abortion rights and unions throughout his career (Bohlinger) or an investment banker who supports the Citizens United decision and who wasn’t sure if he wanted to run as a conservative or liberal as recently as six months ago (Adams).
  5. Bohlinger, despite the highest initial name recognition of the three candidates, squandered his early advantage with a hostile, incoherent campaign.


If Ryan Zinke wins, it will either be because low-information Republican voters, swayed by his advertising and the work of his personal Super PAC, will not realize that they are voting for a Republican candidate for the House who was in favor of gun control, legal abortion for 20 weeks, increased environmental regulations, and medicinal marijuana as recently as two years ago, or because the anti-Zinke faction will simply split their votes between Corey Stapleton and Matt Rosendale. Stapleton is an oddity to me: despite running ineffectual campaigns that offer little substance or red meat to conservative voters, he seems to reliably be able to pull 15-20% of Republican support. That might be just enough to prevent Matt Rosendale from defeating Zinke. While there is no way Stapleton, Arntzen, or Turiano can win Tuesday, their combined votes might be enough to prevent Rosendale, who seems to have the most support from Republican lawmakers, from winning the race.

Even if he wins, Zinke will leave this primary as damaged goods: he’s managed to, through prolific and epic waffling, to alienate the conservative wing of the GOP and come across as a raving lunatic to moderate voters.


There is a wealth of riches for a blogger whether Brad Johnson or Derek Skees wins this primary, but for entertainment’s sake, I’m hoping Derek Skees gets the chance to run another statewide race.


The most interesting part of the evening may well be the battle between the “responsible Republicans” and the TEA Party conservatives for control of the Republican caucus in the Legislature. I suspect the incumbents will win almost every race they are in, but will make some picks in the races Mike Dennison and Chuck Johnson identified as the ones to watch in a recent piece.

  • SD4: Blasdel over Fisher
  • SD9: Jones over Large
  • SD 20: Ankney over Usher
  • SD42: Dooling over Stockton
  • SD 43: Boulanger over Connell
  • SD 14: Hansen over Mattson
  • HD 7: Garner over Skees
  • HD17: Clark over Anderson
  • HD19: Pinnoci over Hagan
  • HD 60: Lamm over Fochs
  • HD 69: Monforton over Houghton
  • HD 80: Miller over Johnson

No matter how these races turn out, I don’t think we’ll get much clarity about the Republican Party in Montana.


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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • I’ve been waiting for this one, Pogie.  From my extremely scientific research but not in any order, I think:
    The Demo Senate primary could be closer than the pundits would think: Walsh 38%, Adams 34%, Bolingher 27% (and one percent idiot votes).  Bohlinger will get his numbers from visibly being around forever, name recognition and he’s been, apparently, touring the state.  Adams had a late push, maybe too little, too late, but Demo outsiders, especially environmentalists, are supportive.  It will depend on turnout.  Walsh has the money and the mainstream support but the campaign had been lackadaisical.  He’ll squeak out the win, though.

    The Republican House primary: Zinke by a nose.  Rosendale is coming on strong but will split the vote with other tea party conservatives.  Zinke 32%, Rosendale 29%, Stapleton 20%, Arntzen 11% and Turiano 7% (and one percent idiot vote).

    The other big races: Lewis will take it but Driscoll will get some votes, don’t ask me why: Lewis 67%, Driscoll 32%.  Daines and Edmunds?  I’d love to see Champ give Stevie a run but … Daines 75%, Edmunds 24%.  (I always leave that one-percent margin of error for funky voters.)

    Not as familiar with your PSC race — not my district — but Johnson should get it.  Skees would be more entertaining but what if he actually got elected? 

    Missoula area legislative seats seem in control for the Democrats.  We have an interesting sheriff, county attorney  and commissioner primaries, though.

  • I agree.  I voted for Adams.  I couldn’t vote for a guy who wants to privatize social security.  Sumthin’ REAL wrong with Wishy Walsh.  Easy to screw your fellow man if your got military retirement!  For you see, there’s not a REAL big chance that he’s gonna lose his!  I know many folks who HAVE lost their retirements though.  And all they have left is SS.

  • I have the same exact pics actually, except Walsh will garner considerably more.  And Rosendale will sneak by Zinke in a close one.  The cracks in Zinkes armor are pretty apparent by now.

  • You pick Boulanger over Connell in SD43? That’s pretty depressing, but maybe predictable given that Boulanger, who is running in southern Ravalli County, has campaign signs that look as if they stretch to the Canadian border. Connell is very conservative, but not a wing nut, so he’ll get a significant number of votes from the handful of Bitterroot progressives who, in the past, would never have considered voting for him. That’s how bad it’s gotten in Ravalli County. Many of the county races are the same: the progressives are voting for least crazy conservative over the really, really crazy tea bagger. Thank god for the open primary!

  • MY picks are the same here. Good job on this Don I believe we will also see an uptick in Dem Voters for the state!

  • Well, the primary is over and no one is going to hire me as a prognosticator.  I should probably get out of Missoula more (and maybe quit reading progressive political blogs).  I thought Adams had more traction but Pogie was right, Dirk didn’t have the money or the campaign.  I guess Adams’ anti-Keystone, pro-environmental stand didn’t resonate, either … too bad.

    I didn’t think that Stapleton was as strong a candidate as the outcome showed he was. 

    I picked Lewis and Daines, but that was a no brainer.

    Still sifting through the legislative races.

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