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Sanders Stumps For Democratic Candidate In Closely Watched Montana Special Election

Bobby Caina Calvan
Associated Press file
Republican Greg Gianforte, left, Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks are vying to fill Montana's only congressional seat. Sen. Bernie Sanders has been campaigning for Quist.

Sen. Bernie Sanders traveled to Montana last weekend as part of his ongoing effort to transform the national Democratic Party.Montana is holding a special House election on Thursday and Sanders says the Democratic candidate in the race represents the values that Democrats need to embrace in the future.

As Sanders crisscrosses the country to support state and national Democratic candidates, he continues to enjoy the political rock star status that he earned in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Rob Quist is the Democratic House candidate in Montana. He's never run for office before and has spent much of his career as a cowboy hat-wearing, banjo-playing folk singer.

Quist told a sold-out crowd in Billings last weekend that he's thrilled to have Sanders campaigning with him, and the audience yelled their approval for Sanders.

“There is a visitor we have from Vermont tonight,” said Quist. “It is my great honor to introduce to you the most popular politician in America, Senator Bernie Sanders!"  

As Sanders took the stage, a voice from the crowd yelled, "We love you Bernie," and Sanders immediately responded, “Love you, too!”

Sanders' speech highlighted many of the issues he raised as a presidential candidate. These are the same issues that he now wants the national Democratic Party to adopt.

"If we have the courage to take on the greed of the billionaire class who want more and more and more, if we stand together and if we are prepared to take them on, there is nothing we cannot accomplish together," said Sanders.

"If we have the courage to take on the greed of the billionaire class who want more and more and more ... there is nothing we cannot accomplish together." — Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders also told the crowd that he thinks the problems of Washington, D.C., predate the election of President Trump.

"What I'm talking about is that the status quo in Washington is not working and it has not been working for decades," said Sanders. 

The event in Billings was sold out, and several hundred people gathered in a nearby parking lot to discuss their support for the Quist campaign.

Sanders emerged, and using a makeshift audio system told the crowd that voter turnout would be the key to this race.

"The eyes of America and in fact a lot of the world are on this beautiful state this week, with a candidate who stands for the working people of this state and this country,” said Sanders. “Is it possible to take on the billionaire class, and the answer rests with you." 

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says Sanders and other Democrats are trying to frame this race as a referendum on President Trump.

"Making the argument that if you want to send a message about the Trump Administration, voting for the Democratic candidate in this race is one way to do it," said Davis.

Davis thinks Sanders' message could be effective in a state like Montana, because Sanders won the state's presidential primary in June of 2016.

"I think some of the same political skills that he's honed appealing to rural voters in the Northeast Kingdom and other parts of Vermont are working for him in speaking to more rural audiences in Montana as well," said Davis.

Davis notes that there are roughly two dozen House districts that voted for Hillary Clinton and elected a Republican House member. He thinks Sanders will target these districts next year.

Sanders will "identify winnable seats and then try and recruit candidates who are progressives who also have a good chance of victory in those districts and can raise enough money to go up against what will be well-funded Republican candidates," said Davis. 

Sanders will continue his push to elect Democratic candidates in a special House election in Georgia next month.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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