One of my favorite sayings from Elizabeth Warren is: “We might not win every battle we fight, but if we don’t fight we can’t win.”
And it’s my message to my fellow Democrats: we need to be fighting every battle with the Republicans. We messed up by not investing in the Kansas House special election that was far more winnable than the experts in D.C. said it was. Now, in addition to the GA special that everyone is paying attention to, we need to be making a major investment in the Montana House special election.
There is a trend developing in this election cycle, and it has the potential to fundamentally redefine the nature of politics in the Trump era. In February, a Delaware special election that would determine which party controlled the state Senate was heavily targeted by both parties and expected to be very close, despite being a district that the Democrats only won 51-49 in 2014. This year, the Democrat won by over 17 points.
Progressive Democrat James Thompson ran in a very Republican blue-collar Kansas district that Donald Trump won by 27 points. Everyone assumed he would get blown out, but Thompson only lost by seven points. Mind you, that was after Ted Cruz came to Wichita to do a rally; Donald Trump did a GOTV robo-call; and the National Republican Campaign Committee did a last-minute media buy. Thompson, badly outspent, countered with an aggressive and innovative Facebook campaign (using both organic content and paid advertising) and an outstanding GOTV operation, and he almost pulled it off.
Right now in Georgia, there is another House special going on in a heavily Republican district (although it is a suburban Atlanta district that only went to Trump by a single point). Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate, won close to 49% in an 18-candidate primary (30 points more than the 2nd place Republican candidate), has raised more than $8,000,000, and has 7,000 volunteers doing GOTV work. The general election will be tougher because the Republican vote will consolidate behind their candidate, but Ossoff has a great chance to win in a solidly Republican district once held by Newt Gingrich.
We have the beginnings of a political earthquake here, folks. Democratic intensity is the highest I have ever seen in my 40 years of political work. Trump’s approval rating has started out lower than any other president in history. A lot of Trump voters now have mixed feelings about him, which means that their intensity level for turning out for these special elections — and if trends continue, even for the November 2018 election — is low.
With this as background, I have a very strong recommendation for Democratic donors and political organizations: over the next five-plus weeks, there is no better use of your money and political muscle than the May 25 Montana special election for the House seat left open by Ryan Zinke, Trump’s new Interior Secretary. If you are already helping Ossoff out in GA 6, that is a great thing, but, frankly, with $8 million plus and 7,000 volunteers already in hand, they are reaching saturation levels and soon won’t need as much help. On the other hand, Montana has not been as much a focus of attention, and the potential to win that district is large.
Here’s why you should take a look at this race:
1. Winning in GA 6 would be amazing (winning always is), but it is the kind of district that everyone assumes is trending away from Trump: an electorate that is very suburban, well educated, and professional. If Ossoff wins, it will be a strong accomplishment, but would be more or less expected by the pundits and political pros here in DC. On the other hand, if we were to win in heavily rural and blue-collar Montana, a state and district won by Trump 56-36, it would set off the kind of political earthquake that Scott Brown winning Ted Kennedy’s old seat in MA did in 2010. Republicans would start running for the hills. It’s already been difficult for Republicans to stay united and pass tough legislation, but if we win the Montana special, the panic on their side will be palpable.
2. In spite of Montana being a very red state in presidential elections, it has been surprisingly purple in other statewide races in recent years. Democrat Governor Steve Bullock was just re-elected to a second term last year; Democrat Brian Schweitzer had been governor for two terms prior to Bullock’s two victories; incumbent Democratic Senator Jon Tester is running for his third term next year; and before being named by Obama as ambassador to China, Democrat Max Baucus had been a senator for decades. So clearly there is an open-ness to electing Democrats to major offices in Montana.
3. Democrats have a strong candidate while Republicans have a relatively weak one. The Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, is the same one who lost to Bullock in the governor’s race in 2016, and he had a lot of negatives exposed in that race. Meanwhile the Democratic candidate, Rob Quist, is a country music singer, who is a local legend in the state.
4. The top two staffers running Quist’s campaign are the same ones who managed Bullock’s successful re-election campaign. They know Gianforte in depth, and they know how to beat him.
5. Quist has already raised $1.4 million, so the campaign is off to a good start. However, the Republicans are beginning to understand the stakes and are dumping massive amounts of money into the race. Quist is going to need help.
6. There is a private poll that shows the race within ten points, despite Gianforte’s big lead in name recognition, hot off of his run for governor. When voters read the bios and messages of both candidates, the race becomes a statistical dead heat.
This is a winnable race if the Quist campaign gets the money it needs, and if independent efforts to do GOTV with American Indians and young people gain funding. If we win here, it is going to change the nature of the political environment and narrative for the 2018 cycle — it will help Democrats recruit great candidates, expand the number of districts in play, help the Democrats raise more money, and boost Democratic activist involvement even more. I strongly encourage everyone to get involved in this race.
If I have convinced you and you want to give directly to Quist, here’s how.