Blue wave slow to rise in Montana, other Western states
(CN) — The blue wave that Democrats had hoped would carry them to a Senate majority didn’t quite wash over the West on Tuesday night.
Republicans maintained their slim majority in the Senate and in fact managed to pick up three seats, including one in a landslide victory in North Dakota.
Montana’s Senate race was one of the closest elections in the West and as of 11 p.m. Tuesday the election was still too close to call, with only about half of the precincts reporting.
“I’d love to tell you this thing is in the bag, but it’s not over,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, told a crowd of supporters at campaign headquarters in Great Falls, Montana, Tuesday night.
Tester seeks a third term in the U.S. Senate, while state auditor Matt Rosendale mounted a solid challenge. All of Tester’s previous elections have been close.
“This is no surprise,” Tester said. “We have been here before, six years ago and 12 years ago. I look forward to sharing some very good news tomorrow.”
Tester defeated incumbent Conrad Burns in 2006 and he beat challenger Denny Rehberg in 2012. As of 11:30 p.m., he had a one-point lead over Rosendale.
Only two Republicans have held the Senate seat in the history of the state.
While Rosendale planned to ride the Trump train to Washington, that train has been slowed by Tester’s large war chest and his popularity as representative of the Montana proletariat.
At Tester campaign headquarters at the Holiday Inn in Great Falls, Montana, about 800 people enthusiastically cheered as the senator chatted with friends and supporters. Richard Albertini, a Vietnam War veteran quietly nursed his drink at Tester’s party Tuesday night. The 71-year-old spoke of how Tester helped him get his veteran benefits
“I’ve known Jon a long time, and he’s the man to do right,” Albertini said. “Every Republican I’ve talked to is against the Veterans Administration, Medicare, Medicaid.”
Meanwhile at the hotel bar down the hall, patrons watching the election on television looked glum as they saw their chances for a Senate seat win disappear with the wind and snow blowing outside.
This Senate election comes in state that has a Democrat governor but carried Trump to the White House by 279,240 votes over Hillary Clinton’s 177,709 votes in 2016.
And while the blue wave gave Democrats the 23 seats needed to claim the majority in the House, Montana will likely keep Republican Greg Gianforte as its at-large representative. Gianforte leads Democrat Kathleen Williams by about 7 points.
A wealthy businessman, Gianforte was elected last May in a special election after Rep. Ryan Zinke resigned to become President Donald Trump’s Interior secretary. Gianforte was caught up in turmoil the night before that election when he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault after he attacked a reporter from The Guardian.
Montana has only one Representative in Congress.
Will Randall, board chairman of the Montana Human Rights Network, said Montana’s election was a referendum on social rights and a political climate gone off the deep end.
“It’s clear that many white Americans are frightened by the changing demographics and recent social progress made in this country, and their leaders are fighting back.
“State and national politicians are turning back the clock to a time when women, people of color, non-Christians and LGBTQ folks were denied their most basic civil rights. These candidates and elected officials fan the flames of bigotry, anti-Semitism … and racism to try to hold on to their power.
“I’d like to believe that Montana’s voters won’t fall for these hateful tactics but we’ll have to wait and see how the people vote.”
He ran for president and lost, but Mitt Romney won his bid for U.S. Senate on Tuesday night.
Romney defeated Democrat Jenny Wilson for the Senate seat vacated by Orrin Hatch’s retirement. Romney garnered 57 percent of the vote to Wilson’s 38 percent.
Constitution Party candidate Tim Aalders and Libertarian candidate Craig Bowden each received roughly 2 percent of the vote.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. John Barassa overwhelmingly beat opponent Gary Trauner, 66.6 percent to 30 percent.
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican, defeated Democrat Jane Raybould 58-38.
Republican Kevin Cramer defeated Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, garnering over 56 percent of the vote following a heated and brutal midterm election cycle in North Dakota.
Both candidates fought to the bitter end in a blow-for-blow bid rarely seen in North Dakota politics.
Cramer took to the stage at his election party to thank his wife and campaign manager Kris Cramer, as well as several others, attributing his success to “North Dakota hard work.”
“We were outspent five-to-one, and hard work will beat Chuck Schumer’s money any day,” said Cramer. “You give me hard-working North Dakotan volunteers and you can have all the Hollywood and Wall Street.”
At the Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence, partygoers were all grins at their newfound victory.
“There is so much energy in there, it’s great,” Cheryl Moore said. “I’m ready for 2020, we are going to get Trump back in and all I’m praying for is a majority in the House of Representatives.”
During your typical election cycle, there never seems to be a lot of love for the Peace Garden State – which had a shortage on peace these last six months. Instead, the state was shaped into a cold battleground of smears, mudslinging, mistakes and presidential visits.
Between YouTube ads claiming Heitkamp stood by and did nothing while anti-Dakota Access pipeline “terrorists” ran free, and Heitkamp’s staff blunder in exposing the names of sexual assault survivors in an “open letter” to Cramer in multiple newspapers at the height of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the chilly state got a bit heated.
If you were searching for an inside look at what it’s like living in North Dakota, the movie “Fargo,” is more accurate than we might care to admit, and this election was the wood chipper at the end.
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop the outward excitement and anticipation of the crowd of supporters at the Cramer campaign’s election night party.
“The stakes were higher,” said Cramer election night partygoer Stephanie Geiger. “The big things were the Senate race and the marijuana. Making it open to just anyone isn’t going to solve any problems.”
Geiger’s husband Joe quipped “We’ve got to get rid of the Democrats,” to the laughter of the other party members at Joe’s table.
President Donald Trump maintains his place as one of the key factors and most polarizing figures in hotly contested states, and North Dakota is no different.
“His agenda is number one,” Joe Geiger said.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence made multiple stops in North Dakota to campaign for Cramer, giving more exposure than a state that doesn’t even crack the one million population mark is used to.
Several people at Cramer’s election night party also said sanctuary cities were another major factor, echoing Trump’s scathing review of Heitkamp during his visits to North Dakota.
Cramer versus Heitkamp wasn’t the only contentious item on the ballot. The other major issue that found its way to yard signs across North Dakota was Measure 3, the decriminalization of marijuana for adults over 21. At press time, the measure was headed to defeat with 60 percent of voters just saying no.
Mike Connelly has an educational background in addiction counseling and shared his experience in the field after casting his early vote against Measure 3.
“Absolute no,” Connelly said. “I’ve always been from the mindset of setting people up to win and allowing a drug that is prohibitive of health is not something I’m for.”
Recently, North Dakota has become one of the states in the contentious voter ID law debate when the state added new restrictions on voting that required voters to present ID with a valid street address. This law was viewed in North Dakota’s Indian communities as an attack on their voting rights.
Heitkamp won her seat by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2012 and received overwhelming support from North Dakota’s Indian population. In the current bid, the new ID laws presented a challenge for North Dakota’s 30,000 Indians, with many of them facing hardship in the process because the State did not issue the mandatory residential address required for a valid ID and had instead used tribal ID and other means of identification in past elections.
An 11th-hour bid to block the North Dakota ID law was shot down by U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland this past week, finding changes to North Dakota voting laws this late in the game would “create as much confusion as it would alleviate.”
Not everybody agreed with the Indians when it came to laws that were originally designed to curb voter fraud. Cramer supporter Wyatt Smith thought the voter ID laws were more than fair.
“I don’t understand all the hoopla because North Dakota is already the easiest state to vote in,” said Smith. “We’re the only state without voter registration so I don’t know how much easier it can get. I don’t understand what the Democrats want.”
Smith also called Heitkamp “a windsock who just votes with the wind.”
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum made an appearance to show support for his fellow Republicans.
“About the election, yes it’s about policy but it’s also about all of you that get out and support our candidates,” said Burgum. “We should be listening to a lot of victory speeches as the night goes on.”
The North Dakota ticket ran red with an all-Republican delegation and Cramer at the helm. Other names on the ballot included Rep. Kelly Armstrong and the re-election of Attorney General, Wayne Stenehjem .
Independent candidate Alvin Jaeger also won re-election as secretary of state.