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.
U.S. SENATE, REPUBLICAN (STEVE DAINES)
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.
U.S. HOUSE, DEMOCRAT (JOHN LEWIS)
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.
U.S. SENATE, DEMOCRAT (JOHN WALSH)
I just don’t see either Dirk Adams or John Bohlinger pulling off the upset against Senator Walsh, for a few reasons:
- 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.
- Both Adams and Bohlinger have been far more interested in attacking Democrats; John Walsh has focused his energy on critiquing Steve Daines.
- Both are positioning themselves as the “progressive candidates” in the race, which will likely split the anti-Walsh, anti-moderate vote.
- 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).
- Bohlinger, despite the highest initial name recognition of the three candidates, squandered his early advantage with a hostile, incoherent campaign.
U.S. HOUSE, REPUBLICAN (RYAN ZINKE)
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.
PSC DISTRICT 5 (DEREK SKEES)
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.
REPUBLICAN LEGISLATIVE THROWDOWN
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.