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ICYMI: Gianforte Confirms Montana GOP Fears, Shuffles Deck in Montana

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In case you missed it, two weeks ago three prominent Montana Republicans wrote a pleading op-ed in the Missoulian warning of a potential “Republican shuffle” should Rep. Greg Gianforte declare a bid for governor and leave his House seat open in the 2020 congressional elections. And now, it looks like their worst fears have become reality.
Read more in National Journal about Gianforte’s “Domino Effect”:
National Journal: Gianforte Shuffles Deck in Montana
After 16 years of Democratic control of the Montana governorship, Republicans want to avoid any unforced error that could jeopardize what they view as a golden opportunity next year to win back the seat—one of the few statewide offices Democrats still hold.
That effort got a little harder Friday when Rep. Greg Gianforte formalized his long-expected second run for the seat he lost in a challenge to the now-term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock.
The fear within the GOP is that a primary crowded with formidable contenders could grow contentious, leaving the eventual nominee wounded for the general. Montana Senate President Scott Sales, a Republican, said in an interview that dynamic is what hurt the party last year against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.
“We had four good candidates, and toward the end it got pretty brutal,” Sales said. “And unfortunately the Republicans were good at giving Democrats sound bites for the general.”
There may be more of that to come, with five Republicans already in the race by the time Gianforte jumped in—though Secretary of State Corey Stapleton quickly switched to run for Gianforte’s open House seat.
“My friend Greg Gianforte is trying to come in like Julius Caesar,” state Sen. Al Olszewski said in an interview. “His strength is his pocketbook. And the question is, will he come in and be adored like Julius Caesar after battle, or will he come into the Senate with Brutus holding the knife? I don’t know yet. He’s risking a lot.
The campaign of Attorney General Tim Fox, who rebuffed persistent recruitment efforts to run for the Senate last cycle, swiftly criticized Gianforte for leaving Congress months after getting elected to his first full term.
“Greg is abandoning his constituents to run for governor for the second time in three years,” Fox spokesman Jack Cutter said in a statement, pointing out that Fox, when he was reelected attorney general in 2016, received over 96,000 more votes than Gianforte. “Republicans can’t afford to risk another loss by nominating a candidate who has already proven he can’t win.”
A former state party chair and two county chairmen who support Fox attempted to bracket Gianforte’s entrance by penning an op-ed in the Missoulian arguing Gianforte is better-suited for D.C. The column also warned that his candidacy would have ripple effects down the ballot, with Republican officeholders leaving open numerous seats to compete for the open House seat, which would lead to “a strong likelihood that Democrats will regain power in our state.”
In another early signal of primary hits to come, Olszewski said Fox “has a lot of special interests and lobbyists who are backing him” financially, whereas his own base depends on grassroots support. He also said Gianforte will try “to take away the money support for Tim and take away the people that knock the doors for me.”
Iverson said the primary will come down to “how everyone is going to be able to compete financially with Gianforte,” who spent $5 million of his own money in the 2016 governor race. He said “all sorts of attacks will surface at some point, but it’s a question of who has the resources to put serious voter contact dollars behind their message.”