On a recent sunny morning, Montana legislative candidate Kimberly Dudik knocks on an apartment door at a beige multiplex off Rodgers Street on Missoula's Northside. The sound of muffled coughs and a baby's cry makes it clear that someone's home, but the window curtains remain drawn and nobody answers. Undeterred, Dudik walks across the courtyard to knock on another door. A harried-looking woman holding a phone answers. She says she's too busy to chat about the campaign. The woman warms, however, when she learns that Dudik is a Democrat.
"I vote straight Democratic ticket," the woman says. "You will get my vote and my son's...We need to win, dear...We're in serious trouble, our economy."
Armed with this small victory, Dudik marches on in her gray and purple tennis shoes. After logging more than 100 hours on the doors this past year competing for the House seat vacated by Democrat Betsy Hands, Dudik knows to wear sensible shoes. She has also perfected her pitch. It's gentle, yet persistent. "I am a registered nurse and an attorney," she tells those who answer their doors, and then asks if they have any concerns about local government.
While on the stump, Dudik has also come to recognize the substantial demographic differences in HD 99. The district blankets 246 square miles that include bits of Arlee, the Westside, downtown Missoula and Grant Creek. "Sometimes there's the lingering smell of pot smoke," she says of some doors she's knocked on. "I've never smelled pot up in Grant Creek."
The district is sprawling, but Dudik doesn't actually live within HD 99. She grew up in Frenchtown and now lives with her husband and two children in central Missoula, "a few blocks" from the district line. Her detractors have said her living outside the district makes her less qualified to serve its residents. It's not unusual, however, for legislators to represent areas they don't live in. State law only requires that they live in the county encompassing their specific district.
"It's a pretty broad area," Dudik says. "All of these people don't have the same concerns."
Part of Dudik's doorstep speech focuses on how she's best equipped to represent HD 99's varied interests. At 37, she worked most recently for the State of Montana as an assistant attorney general. She left the attorney general's office in June to focus on her legislative aspirations. She also holds a master's degree from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Dudik points to her experience as an attorney as key to her House bid. "I understand what's legal. I know that we shouldn't necessarily be writing bills to secede from the union," she says, taking a jab at a failed bill crafted during the 2011 legislative session. Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, famously billed that session as being "bat-crap crazy" for efforts to impose such legislation.
Dudik also questions why, in light of the state's budget surplus last time around, legislators opted to trim 6 percent from spending, shrinking school funding and social service budgets. "It seemed like the legislature last time just wanted to cut," she says.
While Dudik criticizes legislation from the 2011 session, she steers clear of directly taking aim at her opponent, Republican Gary Marbut. A longtime HD 99 resident, Marbut serves as director of the Montana Shooting Sports Association and is a vocal advocate of liberal gun laws. Recently, he's argued the U.S. Congress overstepped its authority when passing the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Dudik is a strong supporter of the regulatory overhaul.
A similar difference between the candidates unfolds on the issue of campaign finance. Dudik is critical of recent judicial decisions to loosen campaign finance restrictions. Marbut's MSSA, meanwhile, fought alongside American Tradition Partnership (formerly Western Tradition Partnership) in a lawsuit that successfully reversed Montana's century-old ban on corporate campaign spending.
"Money spent for speech IS an essential element of speech," Marbut wrote in an email response to questions posed by the Independent for this article.
Marbut's efforts against federal oversight have earned him endorsements from the National Rifle Association and the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.
Dudik, meanwhile, received endorsements from NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, Planned Parenthood, the Montana AFL-CIO and Montana Conservation Voters, as well as from a slew of local leaders, including Mayor John Engen.
"I think nurse, lawyer, big-brained mom adds value to the decision-making process," Engen says.
In the coming days, Dudik will continue knocking doors in HD 99. If you spot her through your curtained windows, wearing tennis shoes and carrying a clipboard, she'd appreciate the chance to introduce herself.
"I'm knocking doors until Nov. 6," she says.