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.
Montana Democrats are tentatively set to pick their nominee to compete for the state’s at-large congressional seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, who is expected to be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior by the Senate. The state party is planning to hold its nominating convention in Helena this coming weekend.
According to a Montana party official, the voters who will be picking the candidate are divided into four different groups:
- The 35 county Central Committees, each of which gets four delegates.
- Elected officials and party leaders (This includes Governor Steve Bullock, House Minority Leader Jenny Eck, and Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso)
- The executive board of the Montana Democratic Party
- Partner organizations (Examples include, but are not limited to, the MEA, AFL-CIO, Young Democrats, Big Sky Democrats, and Stonewall Democrats)
There are eight candidates running for the nomination:
- Kelly McCarthy (Legislator, Billings)
- Amanda Curtis (Legislator, Billings)
- Rob Quist (Musician, Flathead Valley)
- Dan West (Former Obama administration official, Missoula)
- John Meyer (Environmental attorney, Bozeman)
- Gary Stein (Teacher, Missoula)
- Link Neimark (Business owner, Whitefish)
- Tom Weida (Traveling salesman, Helena)
The candidates have to be physically present at the nominating convention, they cannot send a proxy or representative on their behalf. Each candidate has to be nominated by one of the voting delegates. There is a short comment period for candidates and delegates to make their arguments on who the delegates should vote for, followed by the voting.
There will be an estimated 180-200 votes at the convention. A candidate needs 50 percent of the votes plus one to win. If none of the candidates are able to get a majority, delegates vote on another ballot. This process continues until a winner with a majority of the vote prevails. The winner will square off against the Montana Republican Party’s nominee in a special election, which will tentatively be scheduled 85-100 days after Zinke’s resignation from the House of Representatives.
The DSCC should send Donald Trump a thank-you card. From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — The courtship of Ryan Zinke began months before the end of the presidential race. A Republican congressman from Montana and a former Navy SEAL commander, Mr. Zinke was approached over the summer by Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, about running for the Senate in 2018.
To Mr. McConnell, Mr. Zinke (pronounced ZIN-kee) was an ideal candidate to defeat Senator Jon Tester, a two-term Democrat, and bolster the Republicans’ slender majority.
Then President-elect Donald J. Trump intervened.
Mr. McConnell learned early this week that Mr. Trump had grown interested in Mr. Zinke to be secretary of the interior. Mr. McConnell quickly contacted both Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, in an effort to head off the appointment, according to multiple Republican officials familiar with the calls.
Mr. Trump was not moved. He was so taken with Mr. Zinke during their meeting on Monday at Trump Tower that he offered him the position. Mr. Trump’s son Donald Jr. quashed a competing candidate, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, because of her support for selling off public land, a senior Republican official said.
Mr. Trump’s defiant selection of Mr. Zinke, 55, dismayed Republicans in the capital and raised suspicions about how reliable an ally he will be for the party. Even as Mr. Trump has installed party stalwarts in a few cabinet departments, he has repeatedly shrugged off the requests of Republicans who have asked for help reinforcing their power in Congress.
And having flouted the party establishment throughout the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump now appears determined to go his own way in office, guided by personal chemistry and the opinions of his family members.
Based on these political dynamics, Zinke will probably sail through his confirmation hearing without breaking a sweat. If he is confirmed, that means that Montana governor Steve Bullock will have to call a special election to fill the seat, which represents the entire state in the House of Representatives.
Zinke was just re-elected to his seat 56-40, in a state that Donald Trump won by 21 points but also re-elected Democrat Steve Bullock by 4. Democrats have won in state and federal races in Montana, so this House race should be seen as winnable by the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Montana Democratic Party. This race gives Democrats an opportunity to test message and strategy ahead of Jon Tester’s re-election run in 2018, and will likely be their first attempt at winning a congressional race since the November election.
The Montana Democratic Party flagged a story about Whitefish resident and white nationalist leader Richard Spencer saying he was “very seriously” considering running for the Republican nomination. In a separate story by The Missoulian, Montana Democratic Party executive director Nancy Keenan issued a statement saying, “To be clear, Richard Spencer’s views are not Montanans’ views. We’ve called on the Montana GOP to denounce this kind of racism in their party this year and we will continue to hold Republicans accountable for this fear-mongering behavior as we move toward a special election to fill this U.S. House seat.” Montana Republican Party chairman Jeff Essmann is quoted in the same story saying, “In most corners of Montana, a Spencer candidacy would be viewed skeptically.”
The candidates who will run in the special election will be chosen by their respective state parties rather than through a normal primary process. Because of this, Republicans can probably breathe a sigh of relief in that this scenario virtually guarantees Spencer will not get the nomination. After the experience of 2012 where Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock cost the Senate GOP two races it should have won because they said outrageous and controversial comments which torpedoed their campaigns, Republicans have learned their lesson. On the other hand, Donald Trump just got elected president in spite of the many outrageous and controversial comments he made before and during the campaign. Perhaps some Republican candidates will try emulating that tactic to win an election in the future.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is probably breathing a sigh of relief after getting two bits of good news today.
First: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who was being considered for the Secretary of Energy position in the Trump Administration, announced that he would be remaining in the Senate. Former Texas governor Rick Perry wound up getting the top job in the government agency he wanted to eliminate as a 2012 presidential candidate but couldn’t name. (Here’s video of the infamous “Oops” moment which derailed his candidacy.)
Second: Donald Trump chose Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) for Secretary of Interior. Zinke, a former Navy SEAL who just finished his first term in the House of Representatives, was considered a serious challenger for Montana Democratic senator Jon Tester’s 2018 reelection campaign. Political observers weighed in on this development via Twitter: