But I’ll take it: a general election armchair analysis

It was hardly a tsunami, not even a good-sized wave, more like a rolling swell. But I’ll take it.

Tester won, and the repudiation of four presidential and a half-dozen surrogate visits made the win all the sweeter.

Still, it took a husky seven-fingered, flat-topped, dry land farmer and close to $40 million in spending to keep this seat in Democratic hands, beating a faux rancher by a margin of about 15,000 votes out of 492,505 cast. But I’ll take it.

On the flip side, U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams lost to body-slamming incumbent Greg Gianforte by about 25,000 votes. Gianforte outraised Williams by $9 million to $3 million. I guess being the richest member of Congress has some advantages, like loaning your campaign $1 million. Outside spending was about even.

The House race never reached the nasty level, or garnered the national attention, as the Senate race. William’s TV spots were mostly soft sell: videos of her dog and talk of her mom. And while we all were disgusted by the negative advertising in the Senate campaign, would a meaner Williams campaign been more effective?

It pains me to say it but women don’t fare well in statewide elections, even with the uptick in women’s activism. Unless it’s for something like Superintendent of Public Instruction — considered by Republicans as a school marm kind of gig — sexism affects Montana elections. Kim Gillan, Amanda Curtis and Denise Juneau are just some of the qualified women who’ve lost recent statewide general elections.

But here’s to the women in Western Montana who ran great, grassroots campaigns in extremely tough districts. You did Montana Democrats proud, and made Republicans sweat a bit, expend some of their resources and perhaps be held more accountable.

Some of these women are Bitterrooters: Margaret Gorski (HD 88) and Laura Jackson (HD 85). Gorski ran a competitive race against Sharon Greef, the term-limited incumbent’s wife. Jackson didn’t allow incumbent Theresa Manzella a free ride. Manzella’s arrogance was apparent as she refused to respond to candidate questionnaires from area newspapers.

Also in the mix was Independent candidate Laura Garber (SD 43) who lost to far-right newcomer (and magazine subscription scammer) Jason W. Ellsworth.

Way to go, Ravalli County.

In the area east of Missoula, Lee Bridges (HD 92) lost a real heartbreaker to incumbent Mike Hopkins. To say this blue collar woman worked her derriere off would be an understatement. The numbers were close in this consistently conservative district: 53-47 percent.

West and north of Missoula, in very red Mineral, Flathead and Sanders Counties, Diane Magone (HD-13) and Chris Gross (HD 14) ran brave races in districts where Democrats rarely break 30 percent. Eldena Bear Don’t Walk made a good showing in Lake County’s HD 93.

Thanks you, Western Montana women, for not allowing Republican candidates to run unopposed and building the party and remember, momentum is your side.

Other Missoula area women fared better. Most notable is Diane Sands’ (SD 49) nail-biter win over Griz and NFL running back, and political neophyte, Chase Reynolds. Other winning women were Katie Sullivan (HD 89), Marilyn Marler (HD 90), Marilyn Ryan (HD 99) and Andrea Olsen (HD-100).

Another significant win in Missoula, albeit a squeaker and this time by a male, is Tom Winter over incumbent Adam Hertz. It was the one Democratic pick up in the Montana House, making it now a 58-42 Republican majority. Democrats added two seats in the Montana Senate, giving Republicans a 30-20 advantage.

Would I have liked to see more Democratic wins in the legislature — of course — but I’ll take it.

While I generally agree with James Conner’s analysis over at Flathead Memo and have great respect for his writing, I’m going to pick a bone with this comment:

Going into the 2020 presidential election, Montana’s Democrats have little reason for optimism. The state continues to redden. President Trump probably will be re-elected. A Republican likely will replace Steve Bullock as governor. Republicans likely will maintain control of the offices of SecST, AG, Auditor, and Public Instruction. Republicans likely will maintain control of the legislature, and no longer constrained by the governor’s veto, burden Montana with mean-spirited and reactionary laws.

Therefore, if you’re a Democrat and you’re jumping with joy because Jon Tester, stop. It would have been better for Montana had Rosendale replaced Tester, had I-185 passed, and had Democrats won working majorities in both houses of the legislature.

Rosendale would have been a six-year disaster … but let’s start with the initiatives. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. alone spent $17 million to defeat the Medicaid expansion initiative with one of most misleading campaigns on record. The I-185 opponents, calling themselves “Montanans Against Tax Hikes,” never mentioned tobacco or health care at all in their media blitz, instead calling it an “unfunded mandate” and “unconstitutional,” neither being true.

Republicans jumped on the big tobacco bandwagon saying they’d fix Medicaid expansion in the legislature. We’ll see how that goes.

To a lesser extent, monetarily, I-186 opponents still managed to outspend clean water proponents by a factor of 2 to 1. Money, again, flowed in from out of state to purchase misleading campaign ads. I-186 “would be the end of mining jobs in Montana” according to marketing. And again, the message was supported by the Montana Republican Party.

So, GOP, it’s alright to deny disadvantaged Montanans health care and pollute our waterways in perpetuity? Thanks ever so much.

Otherwise, the six-mill levy passed, helping to fund Montana’s public colleges and universities. Tester won and we picked up a few seats in the legislature. Josh Slotnick, a progressive, is Missoula’s newest county commissioner.

It’s not all doom and gloom. The counties that delivered the most Democratic votes (besides those with Indian Reservations) are the fastest growing in the state. We aren’t Idaho, Wyoming or the Dakotas quite yet. Our wins could have been bigger going into 2020 but progress can be incremental.

For now, I’ll take it.







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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.


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  • Sharon Greff stood in a candidate debate with Margaret Gorski and told the crowd that we don’t have to worry about forest fires as God will handle them. So, magic, voila no fire worries and look at the timber and money the repunks will save! Yeah, right. Margaret a land manager and Sharon gets her nails done once a week and her nickname is silver nails. Great voting you sheeple.

  • The email connection you have provided creates a challenge for me in that I would have to download more than 6 hrs. of messages before I could send you my suggestions. Could you email and provide me with an alternate email?

  • The big story in this election was the disenfranchisement of 7000+ voters, most of whom would have also supported most Dems in local races. There is a long history of the Democratic party campaigning actively against the Greens, even when there is no Republican to benefit from it. That happened to me in 2004 when I ran for the Legislature. The idea that the Democrats are really “moderate Greens” is now totally blown. They are actively opposed to any strong peace initiatives, trade policy which reflects environmental realities, and even the simplest “Green solutions” like a carbon tax, or voting in favor of the UN ban on nuclear weapons. Nancy Pelosi was on TV often, saying that we need even more military spending! I’m not kidding. And Jon Tester has adopted nearly all the Trump agenda, having sold out all principles long ago. Whatever he needed to say to get elected, but the real “labor democrats” and those who are strong environmentalists won by lots more. If you can’t figure out a better way to spend $20 mil than with attack ads, you don’t deserve to win – especially after you’ve already removed the one party which actually has the answers, and the correct policies to “save the world”, which is on the very brink of self-destruction…

    • Nope.

      If the Greens want to get on the ballot (especially if there are 7,000 of them) they need to get out and get signatures. That out-of-state Republicans operatives were able to do it in a week just shows that the Greens seem more interested in a narrative of martyrdom than organizing to get on ballots and run in races.

      And spare me the claims of disenfranchisement. When people of color across this country are denied equal access to actual voting and can’t even be sure their votes will be counted, I send my concern that way, not to Greens who absolutely had the right to vote this cycle and could have written in any name they wanted.

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