Rob Quist logged a good couple hours as the Montana Democratic Party's pick to replace Ryan Zinke before conservatives fired their first major salvo. The Congressional Leadership Fund had an attack ad in the chamber even before the Dems had gathered March 5 to settle on their candidate, and the super PAC quickly pulled the trigger on a $700,000 television buy opposing Quist. The ad's title—"Out of Tune"—came off as a clear dig at Quist's folksy, guitar-playing persona.
It's anyone's guess whether moneyed national conservatives are truly afraid of Quist's chances or just have a bunch of money to burn. Quist is far from a household name outside of folk music and Aber Day Kegger circles. He's a co-founder of Montana's famed-but-ancient Mission Mountain Wood Band, the son of Cut Bank ranchers and a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter. That might be enough to get an endorsement from former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, but critics are justified in pointing out that he's never served a day in public office.
Then again, neither has his opponent. A day after the flurry of Quist news and attacks, the Montana GOP surprised no one in naming Greg Gianforte as the party's pick for the seat. Voters may remember Gianforte as the Bozeman tech mogul who tried to distract them from his river-access controversy by fly fishing on TV—or, alternatively, as the only Republican statewide candidate last year who lost. Gianforte has already promised that if elected, he's committed to sticking around the U.S. House for at least two terms, which would be twice as long as either of our last two congressmen. Then again, one state pundit is already speculating that Gianforte might try to leverage a congressional seat into another gubernatorial bid in 2020.
Clearly, political outsiders are in vogue in Montana. On the one side we have a rich and politically ambitious conservative. On the other we have an artist and lifelong denizen of the state with an original campaign song. Neither party is unanimously happy with these candidates. Moderate Republicans would doubtless have preferred six-year state senate veteran Ed Buttrey. Quite a few Democrats were popping off on social media on Sunday claiming that Amanda Curtis' legislative chops would have made her the stronger choice.
Without voting records to fall back on, it'll be up to Montanans to become familiar with each candidate's character. Come May 25, that's all we'll have to go on.