Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, Democrats have been seeking evidence that vociferous opposition to his actions can yield seats in Congress. Much attention thus far has been paid to the special election in Georgia, which was labeled as an early referendum on the Trump presidency. But the real test of Trump’s popularity may be taking place in Montana, where Bernie Sanders supporter and bluegrass musician Rob Quist is attempting to fill the state’s congressional seat vacated by Ryan Zinke, who was sworn in as interior secretary in March.
An easy win by Republican Greg Gianforte, Quist’s primary opponent, would indicate rural America’s support for Trump, who won Montana by 20 points, remains steadfast. But if Quist is able to come close—or even win—in a race Democrats haven’t topped since 1994, it would be evidence that supporting populist candidates in the mold of Sanders might be Democrats’ best chance at regaining congressional seats in middle America.
“The GOP knows from Georgia they shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, referencing Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff’s near-win in Georgia’s reliably Republican sixth congressional district, which is headed to a runoff in June. “What they don’t want to do is give the Democrats a narrative that says, ‘We’ve broken the Trump metric.’”