Referring to Montana’s upcoming special election as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s first few months in office, Republican U.S. House of Representatives candidate Greg Gianforte visited Polson last week with a clear proposition for the GOP voter base.
“Does the Trump train pick up speed or do we put on the brakes,” Gianforte asked the crowd gathered at the Red Lion Hotel on Thursday.
The Bozeman businessman and former gubernatorial candidate urged local Republican voters to continue the wave which has positioned the party in control of all three branches of government simultaneously.
“We have an opportunity in Washington that we have not had in a long time,” he said.
With Democrats drumming up surprising support in several similar elections across the country, Gianforte stressed the need for engagement during the May 25 vote.
“This is a very important election coming up in terms of advancing Montana,” he said.
In a speech reminiscent of the Nov. 8 general election, Gianforte once again promoted himself as a successful businessman and political outsider.
“Washington is not working for us,” he said, kicking off a discussion that centered on federal overreach, “draining the swamp” and private sector job creation.
Questions from the crowd asked about Gianforte’s stance on healthcare, and show he will align himself in an increasingly polarized congress.
Gianforte said he supports repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, however he thought the recent failed attempt by Republican leadership was premature.
“They tried to rush it through,” he said.
Gianforte added that he does not predict himself contributing to divisiveness in Washington.
“I’m probably not going to be with the Freedom Caucus, although we agree on many things,” he said, referring to the group of conservative lawmakers that opposed the Republican health care plan.
Gianforte received strong support from the crowd, particularly for a $50,000 contribution that his family trust recently donated for the establishment of a special drug court for nonviolent offenders in Lake County.
Despite the local enthusiasm, Gianforte was narrowly defeated in the largely Republican county during his bid for governor in November, losing to incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock by a margin of roughly 200 votes.
While Gianforte is hoping to capitalize on the fact that he is not a career politician, his challenger for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat, Rob Quist,s is also banking on the same claim.
The Democratic musician of Mission Mountain Wood Band fame has garnered national support, with Sen. Bernie Sanders announcing earlier this week that he will travel to the Big Sky State in support of Quist.
Gianforte did not mince words about his opponent at the meeting, calling Quist a “Nancy Pelosi in a cowboy hat,” in reference to the current Democratic House Minority Leader.
Quist in turn has distanced himself from Gianforte, stating in campaign ads that Congress already has enough millionaires. Quist has also criticized Gianforte for not holding enough public appearances.
Despite maintaining a low profile compared to his gubernatorial campaign, Gianforte nevertheless invited those in attendance on Thursday to a series of rallies featuring a big name of his own: Donald Trump Jr.
He ended with a similar message when it came to casting ballots.
“The opposition is mad and highly motivated,” he said. “The one thing I want to ask is that you make sure you vote.”