News · Press Release

DCCC Memo: Key Takeaways from MT-AL

TO: Interested Parties
FR: Meredith Kelly, DCCC Communications Director
RE: Key Takeaways from MT-AL
DT: 5/26/17

Bottom line
: Combined with the positive trends in KS-04 and the GA-06 primary, Democrats are gaining ground at a rate that will put a large number of seats in play during the 2018 midterms.

Montana At-Large has long been a reliably Republican-held seat (Rep. Pat Williams was the last Democrat to hold the seat through 1997). In 2016, candidate Donald Trump carried the state by more than 20 points & Rep. Ryan Zinke by more than 15 points – from the beginning this race was going to be very difficult, particularly for an oddly timed special election still in Trump’s “honeymoon.”

Despite the headwinds, Rob Quist had a strong showing, earned over 44% of the vote and outperformed Secretary Clinton by 8 points. Embarrassingly for the Republicans, they squandered more than $6 million in order to protect what has long been considered a safe red seat – for a likely criminal no less.

Realities of Montana At-Large:

  • In 2016, President Trump carried Montana by 6 points and Ryan Zinke won by 15.6 points.
  • Unsurprisingly based on that, Trump’s approval rating has not plummeted in the ways we’ve seen in other districts across the country. Relying on a backlash to President Trump was never going to work in Montana.
    • According to a DCCC poll conducted by The Mellman Group (5/16 -17), Donald Trump’s favorability was above water: 50% favorable, 46% unfavorable. It was even higher before events related to FBI Director Comey’s May 9th
  • To put this race in context, there are 114 Republican-held districts with more favorable Cook Partisan Voter Index ratings than MT-AL.
  • In their latest analysis, the Cook Political Report outlined how to interpret the special election results: “But takencollectively, the margins in specials can tell us a good deal about the political environment — and so far, it’s looking really bad for Republicans.”

Republicans Spent Millions to Elect a Likely Criminal in a Ruby Red Seat:

  • All told, the NRCC & Congressional Leadership Fund spent over $6 million to elect multi-millionaire Greg Gianforte in a congressional seat not held by a Democrat for decades.
    • At that spending rate, these Republicans groups will be forced to spend many hundreds of millions of dollars to defend their incumbents in similarly safe red seats in 2018.

DCCC Polling & Analytics Got it Right:

  • Since March, the DCCC and its allies recorded five separate polling data sets that showed the race was stuck at an average 10 point deficit with a small percentage of undecideds and a margin of error of +/-3 points. The DCCC always allowed that the race could enter the single digits based on an enthusiasm gap to Quist’s advantage.
  • Early Vote By Mail was assessed each day after ballots dropped to 60% of Montanans on May 1st. Quist needed a strong advantage before Thursday. As with the polling, the DCCC’s modeling also clearly indicated that Gianforte had a consistent, insurmountable advantage in the Early Vote By Mail. That data and modeling was right.

DCCC Took A Smart Chance With Its Investments, Refused to Waste Money on Hype:

  • Within weeks of the nominating convention, the DCCC took a chance on underdog Rob Quist – who was doing all the right things in his campaign – and invested to help him achieve parity on television.
    • The key question: would this move this tough race in his favor?
  • All told, the DCCC invested over $500K on television specifically, which allowed Quist to move things around and achieve parity on television for weeks. Millions of dollars in small-dollar donations came in to backfill that decision, and he was saturated on television.
  • Unfortunately, after weeks of parity, the head-to-head numbers simply did not move, according to multiple data sets before and after the investments.

Greg Gianforte Fatally Flawed General Election Candidate:

  • Greg Gianforte may have millions of dollars but he has the negative ratings to match – and that was before his violent assault of a journalist.
  • The reality is that approximately 2/3 of Montanans had already voted by mail before the assault: it was too late for every Montanan to vote based on the knowledge of his likely crime.
    • This will not be the case ahead of 2018.
  • National Republicans clearly know that they cannot afford to take on more dead weight and are willing to cut Gianforte loose.
    • Even before the polls closed on May 25th, the head of the Congressional Leadership Fund (Paul Ryan’s Super PAC) Cory Bliss labeled Gianforte a “C-minus candidate,” said that “he’s the problem.”
  • Of course, the free-spending and suspect data-wielding Super PAC was trying to save face after burning through $2.7 million. But there’s another motive: laying the groundwork to let likely criminal Gianforte fend for himself in 2018. We can’t blame them.

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