Broadcasting confidence about holding on to the House of Representatives, Republicans are bringing the vice president to stump for the party’s Montana congressional candidate, tech entrepreneur Greg Gianforte.
“We’ve got Vice President Pence coming to Montana next week,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said on a recorded call Thursday with Gianforte’s national finance committee that was sent to The Washington Post. “It sounds like Donald Trump Jr. is going to come back to Montana again.”
A spokesman for Gianforte’s campaign did not immediately respond to a question about the Pence visit. But during the call Daines and Gianforte said the race for the western state’s sole congressional seat was in “single digits,” despite a quiet drumbeat of negative stories about the Democratic challenger, folk singer and small-business man Rob Quist. Until the House voted to pass the American Health Care Act on Thursday, Quist was fending off an Associated Press report this week that he had underreported (and updated) his income taxes. After the vote, Quist was back on message, accusing Gianforte and Republicans of wanting to slant the economy toward millionaires.
“I haven’t seen a poll yet that has opponent ahead, but we’re seeing numbers in the single digits,” Daines told donors. “There’s still a lot of undecided voters out there, but that’s why this race is still very much in play.”
Gianforte, who lost a race for governor in November, told donors that they could “scare off some of this national Democrat money” by committing resources quickly. “We’re seeing about $70,000 a day pour into the race from liberals from San Francisco, New York and Hollywood,” he said. “The Democrats would like nothing more than to put one up on the board and take one away from us and stop the Trump train.”
On the call, several Gianforte allies said that his campaign had momentum. But Democrats, hungry for a win on an unforgiving map, have invested more in the state and bolstered the party’s voter-targeting program. They’ve also become hopeful that the debate over the American Health Care Act could boost Quist, who opposed the law out of the gate.
In a statement, Gianforte’s campaign declined to say whether he would vote yes for the law as written.
“Greg has repeatedly said he will not support a bill until he knows it reduces premiums, preserves rural access and protects Montanans with preexisting conditions,” said Gianforte spokesman Shane Scanlon. “Obamacare failed in part because people said they needed to vote for it first to find out what’s in it.”
Yet in the call with potential donors, Gianforte — who’s said that Republicans need a strong majority to avoid setbacks like the first, failed AHCA push — said he was glad to see the House approve the bill.
“The votes in the House are going to determine whether we get tax reform done,” said Gianforte. “Sounds like we just passed a health care thing, which I’m thankful for, sounds like we’re starting to repeal and replace.”
National Democratic Party figures have largely stayed away from the state, where Donald Trump Jr. made his first campaign swing last weekend. But a spokesman for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who won Montana in the 2016 presidential primaries, said the senator was likely to stump for Quist in the week before the May 25 vote.
On the Gianforte call, former Montana congressman Denny Rehberg stressed to donors that he had lost a competitive 2012 special election and that Republicans shouldn’t underestimate the power of Montana Democrats to turn out votes.
“Every single poll had me winning, and I lost,” said Rehberg. “Why? Because they had a better ground game.”