I must admit to being a big fan of Sabato’s Crystal Ball from the UVA Center for Politics, and I was especially keen on the recent (Aug 5) 2020 Senate race rating (see map below).
As a long-time observer of electoral geography, I must say the Crystal Ball is being a tad conservative on Montana—by which I mean that this is a winnable seat for Democrats and should be AT LEAST in the Toss-up category. I believe the Crystal Ball will move this to Toss-up by September. Why? This will be a Toss-up and likely a gain for Democrats due to the candidates, Montana’s electoral trends, as well as U.S. trends.
Steve Daines, a Republican, is the incumbent. Often incumbents in the U.S. Senate are hard to beat, but senators in their first term tend to be more vulnerable. A few reasons why this seat will likely go to the Democratic candidate: Steve Bullock.
Why Senator Steve Daines will likely lose:
- Daines was first elected in Nov 2014, facing a weak Democratic candidate. Democrat Amanda Curtis was handicapped by having only 2 months to campaign and fundraise.
- Daines raised $7.5 million for his race in 2014; Curtis raised $977,000.
- In 2018, Montana reelected Democrat Senator Jon Tester, despite President Trump campaigning against Tester, confirming that Democrats can win here in the Trump era.
- Also in 2018, Montana’s own #PlaidShirtGuy, Tyler Linfesty, shows some Big Sky skepticism to Trumpian rhetoric.
Why Governor Steve Bullock will likely win:
- Bullock has won three statewide elections—once for Attorney General (2008) and twice for Governor (2012 and 2016).
- Bullock won in 2016 despite his Republican opponent, Greg Gianforte, putting in $5.8 million of his own money in the race—in a year when Trump won Montana by 20 points.
- Since declaring in March, Bullock has raised some $11 million, coming close to Daines war chest of $12.9 million that he has been accumulating for six years.
- Bullock enjoys a high 75% approval rating as Montana governor.
Pundits characterize Montana as a red state, but recent statewide elections give it a more purple tint—plus the national trend indicates an exceptional voting pattern rather than a normal one. This exceptional pattern favors Democrats—as in 2008 at the twilight of the last Republican administration, when tax cuts for the rich, a ruinous recession, and health care loss enraged voters.
It looks like Steve Bullock will win the November election and go from the Governor’s residence in Helena, Montana, to the U.S. Senate in Washington, DC. It is also possible that Republicans will lose Montana’s electoral votes in November.