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It’s early evening on Oct. 11, and Kim Gillan is standing in the foyer of a home in Missoula’s South Hills greeting a line of women making their way inside. She’s sucking on the straw of a Dairy Queen soda cup. When her drink’s finished, she pops off the lid and shakes the ice into her mouth. She’s her characteristic upbeat, high-energy self, shaking everyone’s hand and thanking each one for coming.
Gillan’s logged some 60,000 miles on her car during the course of the campaign. She jokes that she’s on her “15th wind.”
Tonight’s campaign event is called “Wine, Women, and Kim Gillan,” a meet-and-greet during which the couple of dozen women in attendance are penning handwritten postcards to fellow female voters around the state. After a few minutes of mingling, Gillan addresses the entire group.
“I’m Kim Gillan, and I’m running to be Montana’s next congresswoman,” she says. “We need to get down to brass tacks because we don’t have that much longer. Almost only three weeks. And one of the most important messages that I can communicate tonight is that we can get this done, the race is very close, and the women in this room, and the women in this state, are going to be the deciding factor in who is going to be elected to this congressional seat.”
Gillan goes on to give a wide-ranging stump speech, touching on her record in the legislature, in her Billings community and in workforce development, and how she’s from a blue-collar family, with parents raised during the Great Depression. She talks about the importance of education, Medicare, Social Security and not extending tax breaks for the wealthy. She says she’ll be a champion for women in Congress.
Then she goes on the offensive, a departure from her positive campaign commercials and largely civil debates with Daines. She rips into him, saying he’ll be a “rubber stamp” for Republicans, evidenced by the fact House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, visited Montana in August for a Daines campaign event.
“We need someone who’s going to stand up for Montanans,” she says. “I have a track record. And even though my opponent has a lot more money, you cannot buy a track record. Agreed?”
The audience responds with perfunctory yeses and nods.
She turns to the “audacity” of Daines to campaign on “More jobs, less government” after his company benefited from so many government contracts. “To go and basically campaign on the motto of less government is like, ‘Do as I say, but not as I do,’” she says. “And if he does that now, in Montana, what’s going to happen when he’s 2,000 miles away?”
Gillan is on a roll, but none of what she says resonates quite like the words offered by Carol Williams, who walks into the room about halfway through Gillan’s speech. Williams is the matriarch of Missoula Democrats, having served eight years in the Montana Senate—the same eight years as Gillan—and one session as the state’s first female Senate majority leader. She’s married to Pat Williams.
Gillan turns to her at the end of her speech and asks, “Carol, any words of wisdom?”
Williams recounts Gillan’s difficult primary race. “People said, ‘Oh, she can’t do it. Nobody knows who she is.’ But she did [win],” Williams says.
“And so it’s out there, and it’s possible, and we think she can do it,” she says. “And as Pat always says, I think 72 years…”
Williams pauses and her eyes well up.
“...72 years is long enough to wait for another woman…It’s time—really time—that women say, ‘Enough with the men and all their ideas in Washington that are starting to really hurt Montana women.’ It’s time that we tell our friends that we need to do this. We aren’t going to get a better chance.”
The women give Williams boisterous applause.
And then Gillan announces a new messaging effort: a commercial featuring a 72-year-old woman talking about the opportunity for Gillan to be the first Montana congresswoman since Jeannette Rankin. It hit the airwaves Oct. 16, a week after roughly 60 percent of Montanans who vote absentee received their ballot in the mail.