Millions of Americans Could Lose Health Insurance Under Republican Health Care Proposal

Congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration had 24 million reasons to be unhappy on Monday: that’s the number of Americans who would lose their health insurance under the Republican-crafted American Health Care Act by 2026, according to a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.  The major findings of the CBO estimate:

  • The AHCA would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion from 2017-2026.
  • The biggest savings would come from reductions in Medicaid and the elimination of subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act.
  • The biggest costs would come from repealing changes to the Internal Revenue Code caused by the ACA.
  • In 2018, there would be 14 million more uninsured people than under the current ACA law.
  • This figure will continue to increase by 21 million in 2020 and 24 million in 2026.
  • By 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be without health insurance, compared to 28 million people for current projections under the ACA.
  • The reduction in insurance coverage between 2018-2026 would be in large part from states discontinuing the Medicaid expansion program offered under the ACA.
  • In 2018 and 2019, average premiums for single policyholders would be 15-20 percent higher than under the current law. Average premiums would start to decrease in 2020.
  • By 2026, average premiums for single policy holders would be 10 percent lower than under the current law.
  • However, the savings on premiums (or lack thereof) vary by age:
    • For a 21-year-old: 20-25 percent less
    • For a 40-year-old: 8-10 percent less
    • For a 64-year-old: 20-25 percent higher
  • Medicaid spending would decrease by $880 billion from 2017-2026.
  • By 2026, Medicaid spending would be 25 percent less than what the CBO estimates currently under the ACA.

Republicans – who had previously cited CBO estimates as evidence to attack the ACA – had been preemptively attacking or trying to question the credibility of the agency in the days leading up to the estimate’s release. Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, told Fox News, “We will see what the score is, in fact in the past, the CBO score has really been meaningless.” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told reporters, “We disagree strenuously,” with the CBO’s findings.

Not all Republicans were optimistic about the proposed law, even before the CBO estimate was released. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) warned House Republicans that they would be risking their majority if they voted for the AHCA, and told them, “Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote.”

Opposition to the bill is not limited to Democrats. A variety of organizations ranging from the left, right and center have all publicly come out against the AHCA. They include the AARP, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, Moveon.org, and the Center for American Progress.

Democrats attacked the AHCA almost immediately after its unveiling last week, because it finally gave them a concrete Republican policy proposal to target after nearly seven years of a vague and undefined “repeal and replace” pledge Republicans offered as an alternative to the ACA.  The CBO estimate will provide them with quantifiable data for campaign ads and talking points to target Republicans running for election or reelection in the 2017 and 2018 cycles.

In a statement, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said, “Donald Trump’s ‘insurance for everybody’ pledge was a big fat lie.”

“The CBO, which is headed by a Republican-appointed director, just made it clear that Trump’s health care plan will cause up to 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance. At the same time, the plan slashes Medicaid, drives up the cost of care for older Americans, and defunds life-saving services provided by Planned Parenthood. The only winners here are Trump, and the corporations and rich people who get to pocket new tax breaks.”

“Of course, instead of admitting that the bill would leave millions without health insurance, Republicans are desperately trying to discredit the CBO with more ‘alternative facts.’ The American people are smarter than that.”

Tyler Law, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, issued a statement saying, “Every single House Republican owns this catastrophic bill and should be prepared for backlash at the ballot box, particularly given the anticipated loss of coverage for 14 million people as early as next year.”

UPDATE: Politico viewed a White House assessment of the AHCA which estimated 26 million Americans would lose their health insurance by 2026 – two million more than the CBO estimate. The explanation for the document from White House Communications Director Michael Dubke was, “This is OMB trying to project what CBO’s score will be using CBO’s methodology.”

The Future of the DNC: Bill Derrough

Bill Derrough was one of two candidates running for treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. We discussed the role of the treasurer, the DNC’s state of affairs, and how to regain the trust of Democratic donors to convince them to keep giving after a disappointing election result last November, among other subjects.  This is the latest in my “Future of the DNC” series profiling candidates who were running for leadership positions within the committee. This interview took place at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting in Atlanta one day before he was elected treasurer.

What made you want to run for this position, and what do you bring to the table?
Waking up on Wednesday after the election feeling like someone had run a truck over my head, and my two young boys coming up in the morning, because they had been with me the morning of the vote to go vote, to have to break the news to them that Donald Trump had been elected president. I thought my head was going to explode. I’ve never felt that way politically as long as I can remember, and I wanted to do something. I’ve been a big fundraiser and donor for the party for many years, going back to my days in college. House parties, door knocking, small dollars, and in the Nineties, more dollars, in the last fifteen or twenty years, a lot of dollars.

I was talking to the current treasurer every day about what we need to do to rebuild the party. My business, what I do for a living is fix companies that are in trouble, sometimes deep, deep trouble that are facing bankruptcy and going out of business, in other cases minor changes. I said, “I want to bring those skills to the table. I want a real seat at the table.” [Outgoing treasurer Andy Tobias] suggested I run for his seat and he would endorse me. I spent a month thinking about it, talking to family, thinking about everything the Democratic Party has done for this country and for working people like my mom and my dad, immigrants, LGBT people, across the gamut trying to give everybody a fair shake and opportunity. I decided that it would be a big-time commitment. I’d have to sacrifice things – some time with my family. I’d have to step back from a lot of my charity work. I had to do it, because I didn’t want to wake up four years from now and say “I had the opportunity to help, and I didn’t.” I do think I bring a unique skill set. I’ve helped hundreds of companies turn themselves around.

Do you view this as a full-time job? Are you going to take a leave of absence from your current job?
I’m fortunate in that I’ve co-run a business for almost 20 years with a business partner. I’ll be able to step back enough to do this. I don’t view this as, “you need to be intense for the next four years, or eight years.” I think that the next year or two is going to be very intense. Thankfully, I live very close to Washington, being in New York City the train runs every hour. I can be at the front door of the building by 9 a.m. leaving my house at 5:30. I’ve committed to being in the building every week. If you want to change it, you’ve got to be there, and I’m the only candidate that can actually make that happen.

Explain your relationship as treasurer with the finance department, how is that going to work?
The current treasurer was asked to become treasurer by Bill Clinton when he was president. Andy had been a good fundraiser for the DNC, Andy Tobias. So he was made treasurer and he used that role to be both a good steward of the money, but also to be a fundraiser.  So we almost have two complementary positions of fundraising in the sense, even though it’s not in the charter for the treasurer’s job.  Andy, he has his network. I have my network around the country that I have really not tapped into for DNC perspective, but I have a lot of friends come to me say, “You have to do this, and I will give money to the DNC.” Obviously, the national finance chair’s job is predominantly to help drive, to lead the fundraising operation, but I think all of the elected officers should be fundraising for the DNC. Some will have better success than others. I will leverage my network to expand the footprint.

I don’t know if you can comment on this, but what is the financial state of the party in the wake of the election?
I don’t know, because I am not a DNC member. I’m guessing things are not great, on the one hand. On the other hand, there is so much energy out there, people looking for something to latch onto that really should be the DNC. This should be the umbrella clearinghouse organization for all Democratic and aligned activities, whether you’re the DSCC, the DCCC, the DGA, state parties, county parties, the Democratic Municipal Officers’ Organization, we should be helping all of them fundraise, helping all of them get out the vote, helping all of them engage. I don’t know what the budget looks like, I’m sure it’s not great. But I do think there’s a lot of enthusiasm to invest, invest on a multiyear basis, but we need to show people a game plan.

You said you hadn’t tapped into your network of donors.
Not for the… I’ve been working for 30 years across the country for different companies. I’ve made lots of contacts over the years. I have not historically tried to tap into them for the DNC. I’ve tapped into people for various elected positions and things like that. I think people have viewed the DNC to be a bit of a black hole – not knowing where the money goes, what it’s being used for. I’m a Catholic. Catholics feel the same way when they go to parish. They don’t put a lot of money in there because they don’t know where it’s going to go, even though I know because I’m on the finance council of the church and it goes just to the church. If we can have a much greater transparency for people as to where the money is going, and report back to them, I’m committed to having quarterly reports about the treasury.

Like a publicly traded company?
Not quite like that. So a company will file a 10-K for the annual and a 10-Q for the quarter, and those are statutorily laid out. But then a company will also release its earnings update and talk to their investors, and that will be tailored to be more easily digestible because it’s for investors. While we have our [Federal Election Commission] reports we file, we should be producing reports that are like in PowerPoint format saying, “Hey, here’s what we did last quarter. Here’s the buckets where we spent the money. Here’s where we raised the money. Here’s our goals for the next three quarters.”

I’m assuming donors weren’t feeling too happy with the results of the last election. They spent a billion dollars in the last election and Donald Trump still won.  What’s your take on how to get these donors to open up their pockets again?
I think if our nominee had lost the popular vote by 3 or 4 million votes, I think if we had gotten shellacked and lost seats in the House and the Senate,  I think we would all rightfully question, “What the hell are we doing?” But we picked up seats in the House, we picked up seats in the Senate, and Hillary won 3 million more votes.

But for 80,000 votes in three states, you all would be having a very different conversation.
Exactly, on a national basis. However, we cannot ignore the fact that we are one state away from them having [inaudible] to call a Constitutional Amendment. What’s happened in the states is a travesty, we need to rebuild there. I saw this in 2000, “Al Gore’s going to win.” I saw this, I felt like in ’88 with Dukakis, where he was up 10 or 15 points. People get complacent sometimes. What I think we need to do is rebuild the party where it doesn’t matter who the nominee is, we’re going to win at the presidential level, we’re going to win at the state level, this needs a robust national organization with a symbiotic relationship working with state and local organizations. I have people telling me, “If you’re treasurer, I will commit to maxing,” which is $33,900, and they had given $1,000 before. Because they know that if I’m treasurer, I’m not going to waste the money, we’re going to have a plan and we’re going to try to invest it in productive activities.  People are pissed off about the outcome. Most of them are saying “What the F did I do, or did I not to to change the outcome?” People went out and voted, they didn’t vote in the same kind of numbers. If more people voted in Milwaukee, if more people had voted in Pennsylvania, it could have been a very different outcome. Not 400 electoral votes for Hillary, but a very different outcome from where we are today.

At the beginning of October after the Access Hollywood tape, people were talking about a 400-vote landslide.
I was talking to Democratic senators saying “Which committee are you going to be running?”

When Hillary Clinton lost those states, if she had won them she might have been able to bring [Senate Democratic candidates] Katie McGinty and Russell Feingold over the finish line with her.
Then there was the October Surprise….

There were like four in that final month of the race.
We were like, “OK, Washington Post. One more, one more…”

The leaked tax return, the Access Hollywood tape, James Comey, WikiLeaks, Obamacare premium hikes, every week there was another bombshell.
I can’t recall anything like this. You can’t plan for it because you don’t know who the nominee is going to be. I will say this: when Bill Clinton became the nominee in 1992, and I was a Bob Kerrey guy back then, the senator from Nebraska. I wasn’t mad that Clinton won. The best part of being a Democrat was seeing a campaign that fought back, that punched back just as hard as the other side did.

Very different media cycle at the time.
I understand. But James Carville and [George] Stephanopoulos had a focused message, and Bill Clinton framed a lot of the points in a way that really connected with people. But it’s not just connecting, it’s also punching back. But yes, it’s a different news cycle, you can’t plan for everything. But we need to make sure that our nominee and their apparatus is super-aggressive in going after the other side on all kinds of things.

Back to the money issue, you mentioned how Democrats have suffered losses in state and down ballot races over the last eight years.  What would your role be in terms of fundraising or giving out money to the DGA, the DLCC and others?
There is theoretically a finite amount that an individual can give to all committees and things like that, you don’t run up against that with that many people. There are other ways to spread money around. Let’s say you hit some kind of personal cap on a committee basis. You could still direct it to individual campaigns, that can give money to a senator, a senator can give money to another campaign.  I think what we need is to make the DNC an enabler and a clearing house for all Democratic activities. I always like to figure out why people do what they do. One of the stories I hear a lot from the states is, “The DNC comes, has a big dinner, they don’t invite the state party chair, they don’t even tell him or her about it.” I think that comes from the view that there is a limited dollar, and I’ve got to get it first. I don’t believe that there is a limited dollar. I believe, this goes to my father, who is a carpenter. He had a limited budget, right? He had a great pitch, a great cause, he’d write a $20 check to a charity. He died in January, he still had his Clinton-Gore ’92 bumper sticker from when he sent money himself. I think we need to be partnering with local state and Democratic parties, and make the pie bigger for everybody.  Think about how much energy there would be if you were jointly having dinners. But I also think we need to move back from overreliance on events for fundraising and get to a model that is a recurring funding model. So, if we can convince a million Democrats to give $5 a month… How many people voted for Hillary Clinton? [65.8 million] So one million people is like one and a half percent of that.

One million people giving $60 a year, that’s $60 million.
$60 million dollars. If we get 1,000 people to max $33,900, that’s almost $34 million. That’s almost $100 million per year in recurring revenue that we can rely on, and then use the dinners and events to be on top of that, to be more of an affirmation or motivation event, not simply a fundraising dinner. I’m on the board of the Boy Scouts of New York and we’re talking about the same thing, getting away from constant event fundraising and try to get people to commit large dollars on a regular basis so you don’t have to come to an event.

New York is kind of a special place in that regard, I see that in Los Angeles as well where so many people and organizations hit the town for fundraising because of how much money there is in those cities.
And we need to be smart about how we use our money. One of the things I heard was that in one of the states in the Midwest was the Clinton campaign was using campaign money to do voter registration, but I understand that voter registration is a tax-deductible activity. Tom Steyer’s group was doing voter registration in the same states. So if you’re a wealthy donor, you’d rather have your charitable dollars going over there, because it’s tax-deductible, and then you use your non-tax-deductible dollars for some other activities. We need to be smarter about how we approach that.

You talked about transparency. A lot of nonprofits like to show their donors what they get for their money, like “$1,000 will pay for a well in an African village.” Is there that kind of metric in mind?
Yes, you need to articulate that. My father was a FDR Democrat, carpenter, working men and women. My mother was an immigrant. But he also grew up during the era of fascism, and he fought in World War II, so he was a big believer in the Second Amendment, not like a crazy nutjob Second Amendment. I never could find [his guns]. He always hid them, he never took them out, but he’d go hunting a couple of times. But my dad, when he died, I found in his top drawer his union pins, his pins from [inaudible] conventions, and a ton of NRA memorabilia, because they knew how to a $5 donor feel important. So to your point, how do you get somebody, not just the typical, but to have them feel their dollar is going to something specific? Whether you’re a $5 a month donor, or a $100 a month donor, or a $34,000 a year donor, we need to have you feel like you’re involved in something, going back to my Catholic Church example. Most people assume that if you go to a Catholic parish, the money comes in and it’s like some big swirling account.

A fund that goes directly to the Vatican?
Yeah, like it goes to buy a new plane or something. Probably not under Pope Francis, but that’s what most people think. In reality, every Catholic parish lives on its own and it is subsidized by the diocese, the archdiocese, or it pays a tax, like ten percent. The rest of it is self-funding. Similarly, everybody at the DNC has no idea where it’s going, there’s this suspicion. If we can be more clear with people and have them feel better, feel like being a DNC member is something to be proud of, then I think you’d actually have more money coming in.

Is there such a thing as too much transparency with the DNC budget? For example, the intelligence budget is classified, though the general figure is subject to speculation or discussion.
You can easily say the number, but you don’t want to divide it up. Because I would like to create some operations in the DNC, [inaudible] on the digital that happens to be way ahead of the curve. I’ve got friends in the digital world who say “Oh, yeah. We know exactly who Trump hired. Jared Kushner went out and hired these three people. They built his digital strategy, it was very micro-targeted.” So when a company, whether it’s American Airlines or iHeart Communications, iHeart is a client, they just did their earnings call today, they update their investors who make the decision to invest in their company. They give slides as to what they’re doing, they talk about operating metrics and financial metrics.  It’s not telling the whole world their secret sauce. We can do the same thing here.

But is there too much transparency to the point where, for example, the Republican Party could try to reverse engineer countermeasures based on what your expenditures are?
Yes, there is. This notion of having complete transparency doesn’t make any sense. It would be probably like a public company, with a securities filing. There’s so much information in there, a lot of people say it’s not necessarily relevant or digestible. I know how to read one, I’ve been doing it for 30 years. But also for the reasons you talked about, we don’t want to be telegraphing to your principal opponent what you’re working on. So we have to figure out a way to take the data we have and [inaudible] it into information that provides members with enough information they feel good about they know what’s happening, they feel good about where the money is going, but isn’t a road map to the secret sauce. That’s possible. I’ve seen this all the time, it’s not rocket science.

What is going to be your benchmark for success?
At the end of the day, it will be how the Democratic Party looks in terms of local, state and federal officeholders 8 to 12 years from now. This is not going to be an overnight process. The thing I’ve been saying to people is, the difference between me and many of the other people running for the officer positions is I’m not looking to run for anything else. I’m not a politician. However, I’m committed to doing this for 8 to 12 years. There are people who will come and go as officeholders and maybe as chair as well. I think we need to have a long-term strategic plan that we focus on and we don’t take our eyes off it. We’re going to have some successes along the way, maybe we’ll have some bigger successes. Maybe 2018 will be phenomenal, got to keep our eye on the ball. Keep building, keep building, keep building.  So I think we got to have that continuity. I would measure success in that we move back from being one state away from a constitutional amendment [inaudible], and we’ve got a lot more state houses, a lot more governor’s mansions, and one or both houses of Congress are back in Democratic control. Also be if we continue to elect Democratic presidents. Obviously we did, we won by 3 million more votes, but we have to be smarter about the Electoral College. This notion that we’re going to get rid of the Electoral College, let’s not waste our time on things that will never happen, right? We can talk about the Electoral College to rile people up, but let’s not waste time and effort and signatures.

Historians speak about a President’s first Hundred Days in office. What would you do in your first Hundred Days as treasurer, in order of importance?
First, diagnose the problem. I have to get on the inside. Where is the problem? What does the budget look like? Where have we been spending money? Where do we need to be spending money? In my business, it’s almost like an ER-kind of thing: stabilize the patient first. Stop spending money in dumb areas, if we are. I don’t know. Figure out ways to stretch the dollar farther in the short run. Try to get some funding in, like pumping blood back into the patient, in the short run to build back up. We have to determine what are our goals. I think we broadly know what our goals are, but if we try to do a hundred things at the same time, we will probably fail. We need to set up a principal set of five to ten things we want to accomplish, and then secondary and tertiary sets of goals, and hold people accountable. If somebody is out there responsible for XYZ, and they’re not doing the job, why isn’t it working? Is it them or is it the problem? Are we not helping them right? But we need to hold people accountable. If it’s not working, you need to change the strategy or change the people.

South Carolina Democrats Will Have a Primary

After nearly 48 hours as the only declared Democrat running in South Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District, Archie Parnell will have competition in the form of Alexis Frank, who declared her candidacy for the special election today. Here’s the statement from South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison:

“I commend Alexis Frank for jumping into this race.  Democrats in the 5th District are looking forward to a substantive primary campaign to hear how all the candidates would work to improve people’s lives.  With Donald Trump and his rubber-stamp Republican Congress threatening to cause great harm to millions of Americans, the stakes could not be higher.  Whoever 5th District Democratic primary voters choose, I am confident that Democrats will be unified behind a nominee with an agenda to bring South Carolinians together and expand opportunity for all.”

This means Parnell’s hope of winning the nomination by default as the only Democrat in the race is over.  He and Frank will have to compete for the party’s nomination in the primary, scheduled for May 2. Candidates from both parties still have until Monday, March 13 to file the papers to get in the race.  If one or more Democrats decide to do so, and neither Parnell nor Frank are able to get a majority of the vote on May 2, there is a runoff scheduled for May 16 if necessary.

UPDATE: I just spoke with Frankie Norstad, who helped launch Alexis Frank’s campaign. The paperwork was filed this afternoon, and her staffing, website, social media, campaign fundraising, etc. should be up and ready to go by Monday.

Some biographical information about the candidate, all from Norstad:

  • Alexis Frank is a 26-year-old mother of two children married to a U.S. Marine currently based in North Carolina.
  • She was born in Hartsville, S.C. and is a graduate of Rock Hill High School, where her mother is still a teacher. Her brother teaches at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, and is openly gay.
  • She enlisted in the Army Reserve at 17, and worked as an Army paralegal for six years.
  • She is two weeks away from graduating with a degree in Project Management.
  • This is her first run for elected office.
  • Frank first thought about running for the seat a little more than two weeks ago, after she saw an online video produced by Norstad looking for candidates to run in the upcoming special elections. She made the decision to run this morning.
  • Norstad: “This girl is hope and passion bottled up and delivered.”

Democratic Candidate Enters South Carolina Special Election

Archie Parnell, a Goldman Sachs adviser, became the first – and so far, only – Democrat to declare for the special election for South Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District. The race was called to fill the seat held by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who resigned from Congress to take the job of OMB Director in the White House.

A series of special elections in Georgia, Kansas, Montana, and South Carolina being held over the next three months to fill vacant congressional seats are widely seen as an early test of whether or not Democrats are able to harness some of the energy of the anti-Trump protests and turn it into tangible electoral results. All were held by Republican congressmen, and all four states have been traditionally Republican in presidential elections.

South Carolina has been a difficult state for Democrats on the ballot in recent years. It is one of the reddest states in the country, and the Fifth Congressional District has been voting progressively more Republican over the past several years.  Mulvaney ousted Democratic incumbent John Spratt 55-44 in the 2010 Tea Party wave election, and was reelected in each subsequent election by 11-21 points until his resignation.  According to Parnell’s communications director John Kraljevic, a centrist Democrat can win the district running on a positive message about the party’s positions than on opposition or obstruction to President Donald Trump or House Speaker Paul Ryan. “It’s easier to run for the ideals of the Democratic Party and the ideals of people back home than to run against any particular individual.”

Kraljevic said that a winning map for Parnell would require the candidate to keep the margin in York County – which is predominantly Republican – close, while running up the vote margin in neighboring Chester, Fairfield and Sumter counties. Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop University, agreed with that assessment, but noted that Parnell’s victory strategy would require strong turnout among Democratic voters who tend to vote less regularly in off-year or special elections. If Parnell is able to tap into an anti-Trump movement in the district, he might be able to buck this historic trend.

Another factor working against Parnell is the fact that York County, the fastest growing region in the state, is becoming more Republican because of people from Charlotte, North Carolina and the surrounding areas moving 25 minutes away across the state line because of South Carolina’s lower taxes. These transplants tend to be white, college-educated, wealthier, and Republican – with most growth in the areas of Tega Cay, Lake Wylie and Fort Mill.  On top of that, the district’s Black Voting Age Population (BVAP) dropped from 29.45 percent after the 2010 census under the old district lines to 26.46 percent under the new district lines. A victory in this election by Parnell or any other Democratic candidate, though an uphill battle, would be seen as an upset.

In a statement, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison said, “As we wait to see whether there will be a Democratic primary, today’s announcement ensures that 5th District voters will have at least one candidate with sensible ideas on how to expand opportunity for all and fulfill Congress’s constitutional role as a check against a power-hungry President.”

Candidates have until Monday, March 13 at noon to file the paperwork to enter the race. According to a state party official, if no other Democrat enters the race, Parnell becomes the Democratic nominee by default with the full support of the South Carolina Democratic Party. If one or more other Democratic candidates decide to enter the race, there will be a primary, in which the state party will remain neutral, but will get behind whoever emerges as the nominee.

In contrast, the South Carolina Republican Party has a deep bench of candidates throughout the state. Seven candidates have already declared for the Republican nomination in this race. According to Huffmon, two of them – Tommy Pope and Ralph Norman – are state legislators with strong name recognition in York County, and a third – Chad Connelly – is a former state Republican Party chairman. The primary election is scheduled for May 2, with primary runoffs scheduled for May 16 if necessary. The general election date is set for June 20.

UPDATE: A second Democrat, Alexis Frank, has entered the race, meaning there will be a primary to win the nomination.

Rob Quist Wins Democratic Nomination

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Rob Quist and his family speaking to reporters after winning the Montana Democratic Party nomination to run for the state seat in the House of Representatives.
Photo credit: David de Sola

HELENA, Mont. – Rob Quist, a political novice from Flathead Valley, won the Montana Democratic Party’s nomination to run for the state’s at-large seat in the House of Representatives.  Quist, a musician, will face off against the Montana Republican Party’s nominee in a special election scheduled for May 25 to fill the seat vacated by Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, who was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior last week.

“I really feel like I’ve been representing the state of Montana all my life, through my music,” Quist told reporters after his victory. “Instead of playing music and providing entertainment for people, we’ll be giving speeches and hopefully trying to energize people.”

“I really feel that with my connection to the people of the state of Montana, and they recognize that I’m someone that stood up for Montana values all my life,” he added. “I really don’t feel like I’m the underdog here.”

Former Rep. Pat Williams agreed with that assessment, saying “Rob Quist has a bit of an upper hand because he’s known throughout Montana, particularly in eastern Montana, small towns, and the bigger cities. They know him, so he’s going to do well.”

Dawn Gandalf, Vice-Chair of the Sanders County Central Committee, addressed the issue of the party not reaching out to rural communities and voters, which was the subject of at least one meeting during the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting in Atlanta last week.  “To have the state start getting involved in recognizing rural communities, it’s been a problem in our state because we are such a huge state,” she explained. “All the attention and funds have gone to the seven or eight top cities, urban cities, and nothing to the outlying. So on the outlying communities, you have people who are voting, but they’re neglected and there’s no support.”

She cites Sanders County – a rural county in the northwest part of the state – as an example, saying it has become “a stranglehold of the Tea Party.” According to the Montana Secretary of State, Donald Trump won this county by a whopping 73-21 margin.

Quist won the race on the fourth and final ballot 90-69 in a head-to-head matchup with State Rep. Amanda Curtis (D-Billings). Curtis became the party’s nominee in the 2014 Senate race against Steve Daines, after interim Senator John Walsh dropped out of the race because of a plagiarism scandal.  Quist’s victory was announced by Williams, who was the last Democrat to represent Montana in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1997.

“I feel better about Democrats’ chances now than I’ve had in quite a number of years,” Williams said during an interview. “In my opinion, this is going to be a very good race for Democrats.”

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Montana Democratic activists and delegates gathered after the convention to discuss plans for Quist’s campaign over the next 80 days. The general election is scheduled for May 25.
Photo credit: David de Sola

One early sign of energy among the Democratic base in the state was the Women’s March in Helena on January 21. Gandalf said that while organizers originally estimated a turnout of 1,200, the actual number who came to the march was 10,000.

That energy may not necessarily be limited to Montana. Dan West, a former Obama administration political appointee at NASA who ran for the party’s nomination in this race and dropped out after the second ballot, felt optimistic about this race getting national attention and support from Democrats outside the state. “The national party is eyeing [this special election]. There’s no other races happening right now to funnel money away,” he said during an interview. West added that he would send out an email to his Obama alumni network to urge them to support Quist in this race.

During his closing speech before delegates began voting, Quist offered unequivocal defenses of the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood, public lands, and public education. Despite the fierce opposition to Republican-controlled Washington that has been building within the Democratic base nationwide, Quist is running on a platform of state issues that matter to voters, not hardline opposition or obstructionism. “He’s not running against Paul Ryan or Donald Trump,” Gallatin County Vice-Chair Elizabeth Marum said. “He’s running to put everyday average Montanans at the forefront of his optics, and we have a lot of needs.”

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Montana Democratic Party officials counting votes after the first ballot.
Photo credit: David de Sola

The Montana Republican Party is holding its nominating convention tomorrow. Several Democrats said they expect businessman Greg Gianforte – the GOP nominee in the 2016 gubernatorial race – to win the nomination.  Gianforte lost his race in the same election that saw Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke win statewide by 20 and 16 points last November.

When asked what Quist and the Montana Democratic Party need to do to win, Williams said, “What Democrats have to do to win is continue to talk to seniors, workers, and Indian tribal people. With that combination, and a couple of other things thrown in, they used to win, and they can again.”

Quist and Curtis Will Face Off in Fourth and Final Ballot

HELENA, Mont. – Montana Democratic Party delegates were still divided on the third ballot, with no winner emerging.  The results:

  • 160 votes were cast.
  • Rob Quist:  72
  • Rep. Kelly McCarthy: 37
  • Rep. Amanda Curtis: 51

Kelly McCarthy, the lowest-vote getter, was eliminated from the fourth and final ballot, which will be Rob Quist and Amanda Curtis in a head-to-head matchup.  McCarthy lost five votes from the second ballot, while Quist and Curtis increased their tallies by 10 and four votes respectively.  A minimum of 81 votes are necessary to secure the nomination.

Voting for the fourth ballot is under way.

Three-Way Race Between Quist, McCarthy and Curtis Emerges After Second Ballot

HELENA, Mont. – Montana Democrats were not able to pick their congressional nominee on the second ballot. The results:

  • 160 votes were cast.
  • Rob Quist:  62
  • Rep. Kelly McCarthy: 42
  • Gary Stein: 1
  • Rep. Amanda Curtis: 47
  • Dan West: 8

Dan West dropped out of the race after the second ballot. Gary Stein was eliminated as the lowest vote-getter on the second ballot.  Voting on the third ballot is underway, with Rob Quist, Kelly McCarthy and Amanda Curtis as the remaining candidates.

No Winner on the Montana Democrats’ First Ballot

HELENA, Mont. — None of the eight candidates running for the Montana Democratic Party’s nomination for the upcoming state congressional election came away with a 50 percent plus one majority after the first ballot. The results announced by Montana Democratic Party Chairman Jim Larson:

  • 158 votes were cast.
  • 1 vote was spoiled and did not count.
  • Rob Quist:  57
  • John Meyer: 0
  • Rep. Kelly McCarthy: 38
  • Gary Stein: 6
  • Tom Weida: 0
  • Link Neimark: 0
  • Rep. Amanda Curtis: 39
  • Dan West: 17

There is currently a ten-minute break before the second ballot, which will consist of Quist, McCarthy, Stein, Curtis, and West.  Under the rules, Meyer, Weida and Neimark are eliminated.

Preview of the Montana Nominating Conventions for State Special Election

I’m in Helena, where I will be covering the Montana Democratic Party’s nominating convention tomorrow to pick a candidate to run for the state’s at-large congressional seat, which was vacated when Ryan Zinke was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior. As was the case at the DNC winter meeting, I will be blogging and posting updates from the convention.

On a related note: Matt Volz of the Associated Press has three stories (here, here and here) previewing the state of the race as both major parties and the Libertarian Party prepare to pick their nominees (the Montana GOP’s nominating convention is on Monday). The general election is scheduled for May 25.