Congressional race takes strange twists

By: 
Brad Molnar
Opinion

When Marc Racicot and Dorothy Bradley were vying for Montana’s governorship they agreed to debate in every county in Montana. They suspended these when attendance was dropping because their messages were so well known by all. Bradley, commenting on the local debates and conversations said, “Win or lose in any particular county it was your best day in court.” Racicot won in a come-from-behind campaign by a razor thin margin.
Compare that to our current not-so-special election. Rob Quist negotiated up to the last minute to take part in a Montana Public Broadcasting System sponsored debate. Then Quist withdrew without explanation. Being the least well known candidate of the major parties he would have benefited most. Eventually his spokesperson, Tina Olechowski, said with a debate scheduled with MTN news, and ballots “soon to be falling,” Rob did not want to overdo it. Sounds logical to me.
The MTN debate did take place, but with a twist. The management decision was that allowing Mark Wicks (L) to join the debate would take away valuable time from the real candidates. This would be in keeping with Lee Enterprises (Billings Gazette) policies in that while mentioning Wicks in Q&A articles they never included his views. The twist is that, according to inside sources, after the National Libertarian Party asked MTN how they would like a discussion with the Federal Elections Commission for failing to provide equal time, the same MTN management team considered new polling data and decided to allow the Libertarian candidate to take part. Wicks did say that Quist seemed supportive of his being allowed into the debate. And he did not sing him a song over the phone, but rather read him some lyrics.
The bigger shock is that all of the MTN panelists and the MTN moderator (Jay Kohn, David Parker, Tim McGonigal, and Mikenzie Frost) agreed that Wicks had won the debate. They credited this with his answering the questions “directly, honestly, and with humor.” They went so far as to wonder if there were time left to raise enough money to capitalize on the boost his campaign received by his showing in the debate. Others wondered if he might not have been a leader in the polls with more exposure and a campaign team.
The same pundits said Gianforte (R) came in second for giving a polished performance and hitting his campaign themes primarily as a staunch supporter of President Trump. He showcased his mimickery of Trump i.e. “Drain the Swamp,” “Repeal then Replace,” and his newest “I am a negotiator.” Gianforte’s experience was credited to him appearing far calmer and approachable than he did during the gubernatorial debates.
Also, it was the general agreement that Rob Quist came in last as he failed to rebut misleading attacks against him or clarify his positions. This is actually not a surprise. During his address to the Democratic nominators, his speech was stumbling and bumbling. Far from what you might expect from an entertainer use to being on stage, or the interdiction of a professional support team.
Quist did manage to raise the issue of Gianforte’s investment portfolio containing Russian companies on the sanctions list. Gianforte pointed out most indexed portfolios contained the same companies as many 401 ks; that is they are not individualized picks. This issue is rarely has been used before successfully as most people focus on how the candidates probable votes will affect their lives, not a candidate’s investment portfolio.
The capper of the evening was when Wicks closed with the observation that if all candidates were actually motorized vehicles Gianforte was the luxury car that looked great but at the end of the day wanted to be parked with other luxury vehicles. He then likened Quist to a mid-sized pick up with a great sound system but not capable of much work. He compared himself to a work truck that if you were stuck by the road could get you to where you wanted to go, even if he had to tow you. In our post-debate discussion Wicks regretted having forgotten his line that “Quist is on a path that tends to the right but his alignment takes him to the left.” Now, that is funny! I asked if he had heard from the Billings Gazette since the debate. He replied, “Yes, they wanted to sell me advertising.” Even funnier.
In a few days, the Missoulian newspaper will hold a Facebook broadcast with the Congressional candidates. Originally only Quist and Gianforte were going to be on the set and they were going to be sitting side by side. Wicks is now being allowed to address questions along with the other two. But the others no longer want to be on the same stage with Wicks so they will sit separately. How funny is that? The mouse that roared.

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