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Three Places to Watch in the Montana At-Large Election

Where should watchers focus their early attention on the race?

The county whose results I will track most closely is Gallatin, both the scene of Greg Gianforte’s recent assault and his home county for the past twenty years. Even though Donald Trump ran even with Hillary Clinton in the fast-growing and prosperous county, Greg Gianforte was crushed there, losing 56-41 among the people in the state who know him best. If turnout in Gallatin is high and Gianforte doesn’t do better against Rob Quist than he did Steve Bullock here, it could be a long night for him.

Missoula County will also be a bellwether, as the Quist campaign has focused a great deal of energy there, including a 4,000 person rally with Bernie Sanders. There is some concern that, given the late date of the election, student vote numbers will be reduced. Missoula County is known for occasionally having high energy at events and less turnout Election Day. The question for the Quist campaign will be whether it can turn out Sanders supporters and disengage voters for a special election. By Thursday morning, 66% of absentee ballots in the county have been returned.

Counties close to and comprised of Indian reservations will also play an outsized role. Quist has devoted a lot of time on outreach there and counties like Glacier and Big Horn went big for Denise Juneau, the Democratic candidate in November. Quist people are engaged, planning to drive voters from small towns like Babb into their polling stations. During his last campaign, Gianforte said disparaging things about Montana’s Indian people, and the Quist campaign released a very effective ad using Gianforte’s own words against him.

There are other keys, obviously, like whether or not Quist can translate his personal popularity and campaign energy into narrowing the gap in rural counties, some of which went for Trump by 80% or more. Given Mr. Gianforte’s recent brush with the law, it will also be important to see how many people show up today. It’s hard to imagine late-deciding voters breaking for the guy who lost his mind on a reporter yesterday. I’ll also be keeping an eye on the conservative Flathead County, where Ryan Zinke doubled Denise Juneau’s vote total. A closer race there will show that Quist has closed the gap statewide.

The more voters who show up at polling stations today, the better for Quist.

Any other spots you all will be watching?

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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 would venture that Yellowstone County is another place to watch. It really mirrors the state electorate. If the race isn’t at least close there, Quist won’t win. With 45% of the votes in as I write this, Gianforte is up by nearly 20 points in Montana’s most populous county. It doesn’t bode well.

  • I did notice that 109,767 LESS Republicans voted in the Special compared to last Fall’s General Congressional Race. The Democratic vote was only 11,226 less than the General.

    On the Campaign, Hilltop or who ever was running things did not update call lists so people were call 4-6 times a day, many of these calls were made on Out of State cell phones. Hilltop should have provided phones with a 406 area code to Volunteers/employees. I heard from several people who were almost to mad to vote.

    Finally the Emails-4-5 a day, promising GLOOM and DOOM, If i don’t donate ASAP. One hopeful e-mail a week would have probably resulted in better results.

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