Montana Republicans Bank On Congressman To End 20-Year Shutout

Montana voters last chose a Republican for governor in 2000. In November, a wealthy GOP congressman has a shot at ending his party’s generation-long losing streak.

The Nov. 3 general election will be a battle between U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R), who made millions as a technology entrepreneur, and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, a former three-time Montana secretary of state.

With incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock (D) running for the U.S. Senate, Montana has one of only two open gubernatorial seats this year, and the only contest for governor that political race raters view as a tossup.

“It’ll be a hard fight,” said David Parker, professor of political science at Montana State University. “It’s a flippable seat for the Republicans, so there will be a lot of outside resources coming in.”

Cook Political Report Race Ratings
Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball Race Ratings

The general election also offers Gianforte a chance to balance the scales. He was his party’s nominee four years ago, and lost to Bullock after spending more than $5 million of his own money.

Heading into Tuesday’s primary, Gianforte, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, flooded the airwaves with about $1.2 million worth of broadcast ads, according to the tracking service Advertising Analytics LLC. His opponents bought a fraction as much ad time.

Incomplete returns showed Gianforte with 53% of the Republican primary vote, or 117,135 of 219,105 votes counted in the all-mail-in balloting, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Montana Attorney General Tim Fox (R) drew 27% and two other candidates shared the remaining 19%.
Cooney drew 55% of the 142,834 Democratic ballots counted.

(Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP via Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, right, with President Donald Trump at a 2018 rally in Belgrade, Mont.

Both candidates have said they want to keep taxes low and continue the state’s expanded Medicaid program.

Without major differences on policy, Cooney is emphasizing his years of public service “from the floor of the Montana House to the Senate to the halls of the capitol.”

“The first rule of Montana politics, of governing, and being a real leader is showing up, he said in a May 2 debate.

He also has stressed that he’s from Montana, while Gianforte moved there as an adult.

Gianforte is emphasizing his business experience an characterizing himself as someone who’ll be prepared to help rebuild the state’s economy following the coronavirus shutdowns.

Indiana Incumbent Favored

Indiana heads toward a Nov. 3 election that will pit Republican incumbent Eric Holcomb against former state health director Woody Myers, who’s viewed by race raters Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball as a longshot. Both ran unopposed in Tuesday’s primary.

“What would it take for Myers to beat Holcomb? If there’s a blue tsunami,” said Sheila Kennedy, a professor at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.

Voters have a generally favorable view of the incumbent, even in Democratic Party-dominated Indianapolis, said Kennedy, herself a Republican-turned-Democrat.

Though Myers is a physician and the coronavirus will be fresh in voters’ minds, it probably won’t be much of an issue because the incumbent’s handling of the pandemic hasn’t drawn much in-state criticism, Kennedy said. “There’s just no there there to hate,” she said. “What happens nationally is likely to have more effect.”

Photos provided by the campaigns
Gov. Eric Holcomb (R-Ind.), left, and physician Woody Myers (D)

Republican consultant Thomas John, a partner in Ice Miller LLP’s Indianapolis office, said Holcomb has “split the line” between using state power to intercede and allowing local forces to guide policy during the months of social distancing, business contraction, and protests over fatalities at the hands of police across the country.

“He kills his opponents with kindness,” John said. “The last three months have been unprecedented in so many ways, but I really can’t see the issue that upends him because of the strategy he’s taken throughout.”

Holcomb begins the general election with a war chest of more than $7 million, while Myers has raised nearly $400,000, according to the most recent campaign finance filings.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tripp Baltz in Denver at abaltz@bloomberglaw.com; Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com

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