Shapiro: Montana special election unlikely to predict larger political trend

GOP strategists say the race between Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist to fill a House seat from Montana is closer than it should be, Politico reported.

President Donald Trump is weighing in on the Montana special election this week with a robocall in support of Republican candidate Greg Gianforte.

If the Republicans hang on to the House seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the sighs of relief from imperiled GOP incumbents may set off every wind chime in the D.C. area.

As well as the Montana contest, two more special elections are also looming in the next month: the run-off for the sixth congressional district of Georgia, and a vote in SC to appoint a successor to Mick Mulvaney, who was appointed Trump's director of office of budget and management.

But for all that money and all the outside interest, the election will turn less on national trends than circumstances close to home: on the personalities and histories of the main contestants, their different campaign styles and, perhaps most of all, on who is regarded as the more authentic Montanan.

Quist's campaign raised a remarkable $5 million, mostly from grass-roots donors.

Sanders, who any day now is expected to unveil a Medicare-for-All bill in the Senate, similarly told the crowd at Montana State University that "Rob and I are going to do everything we can to bury that horrific, disgusting piece of legislation that passed two weeks ago", referring to the AHCA, also known as Trumpcare. That's not just an attempt to hold on to gun owners; it's also a parry of the relentless attacks from Quist asserting that Gianforte wants to privatize Montana's treasured public lands. "We're also involved in the (special election for California's 34th District), but it's less important". Gianforte is still favored to keep the seat red, but a state Trump carried by 20 percentage points previous year became a battleground in the past few months. And as a first-time candidate for public office, the 69-year-old is running an unexpectedly tight race against a Republican businessman in Big Sky country.

Win or lose, what's already played out in Montana risks exacerbating Democrats' rifts about how to approach elections in the Trump era.

The two main candidates could hardly be more at odds.

Bill Schneider, formerly a visiting professor of communication studies at UCLA, said though research has shown voter outreach is more effective when local volunteers engage district residents, out-of-district supporters still have a monetary use: campaign funds.

And Democracy For America, a progressive group originally founded by former Vermont governor Howard Dean, made more than 280,000 phone calls this weekend alone to get people out to vote in Montana.

Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is a veteran of Politics Daily, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and The Washington Post.

But the environment has changed since Trump's presidential win last fall.

In an interview aboard his RV, Quist allowed as how a longer campaign would have given him pause.

Both elections are to replace lawmakers who resigned in order to join Trump's cabinet.

Another Republican strategist working on the 2018 midterms took a dim view of the Republican campaigns in both Georgia and Montana.