The Republican candidate for Montana’s vacant seat in the U.S. House flew around the state with the son of the U.S. President Friday and Saturday, rallying the voting base that turned Montana a dominant red in November.
Greg Gianforte failed to ride that conservative wave of support that gave Republicans sweeping victories statewide and nationally, losing the governor’s race and gathering the fewest votes of any of his party’s candidates who ran for statewide or federal office here.
But in March, Gianforte picked up his party’s nomination to run in the sprint race for the U.S. House.
This time, Gianforte is not letting the conservative momentum behind President Donald Trump go untapped for his own political cause, bringing in the president’s son the help raise money and support for his campaign.
“You wouldn’t necessarily think we’d do so well in Montana…being from New York City," Trump Jr. said told a crowd of hundreds at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds Friday. "But really I this election transcended a lot of those stereotypes and norms. You had a guy, a brash billionaire developer from New York City and he was actually able to talk to real Americans, not at them.”
Donald Trump Jr. joined Gianforte, and U.S. Senator Steve Daines in a four city Montana tour. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined the Kalispell rally.
In Hamilton at the Ravalli County fairgrounds, Gianforte’s campaign and local volunteers said about 600 people showed up. Admission was $35.
When Trump Jr. took the stage he tried to undercut Democrats portrayal of Gianforte as wealthy outsider.
The president’s son pointed to his father as an example of a businessman who understands everyday people, and says Gianforte is a lot like President Donald Trump.
Greg Gianforte echoed the message.
“I am running to be your voice, back in Washington," Gianforte said. "To make sure that our way of life is protected from federal overreach. And we will, along with the administration, start to drain the swamp.”
Throughout his speech Gianforte dropped tag lines of the Trump administration, using them to stoke the crowd spotted red with Make American Great Again hats.
He promised to help repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act - what he referred to as Obamacare - protect gun rights, encourage peace with strong borders and military spending, and cut regulations in the timber and coal industries.
An hour before the event in Hamilton started, John Winger from Missoula, was among those lined up to enter the rally. One of the first people to arrive, he says he’s a big Trump fan, and backs Gianforte 100 percent.
“Basically he’s for jobs, economy growth in Montana, and supporting the agriculture industry," Winger said. "And obviously he’s great at the high-tech type business and that type of thing. Which gives him a huge advantage over, Quist was it?
Rob Quist is the Democrat running in the May 25 House race. He rose to Montana fame in the ‘70s as the frontman for the Mission Mountain Wood Band. In March he beat out several state lawmakers and other hopefuls for the party’s nomination.
Quist also calls himself a voice for Montana, a common-folk candidate, who says there are too many millionaires in DC.
But that message doesn't land for Winger.
“I think people can relate to jobs, especially good paying jobs," Winger said, "more than getting in a bar and drinking, and playing a guitar, you know what I mean?”
At first, Winger said he was at the event for security, gesturing to the protesters gathering on the other side of the fairground fence, chanting and waving signs. Later said he was just joking and he came to watch Donald Trump Jr.
"You have some real haters out there on the gates," he said. "And we have to dispose of them or whatever."
More than a hundred protesters lined the street outside the Gianforte rally.
Beth Swallow, a former Librarian for the Corvallis School District, was among them.
“I came out today because I am increasingly frustrated with dark money, big PACs supporting Greg Gianforte, running attack ads on our television stations, that aren't necessarily factual," Swallow said. "I needed to stand up for Rob Quist today because I believe he is a true Montana. And he will represent all of us.”
Swallow says a true Montanan is someone who understands the state’s economy and problems, who is a voice for the people - things Gianforte’s supporters also say they like about their candidate.
Quist is bringing Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to Montana next month to help campaign. A national name they’re hoping will fire up support for the Democrat. Sanders won Montana’s Democratic presidential primary.
No dates or locations have been announced yet for that tour.