HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The special election Thursday to fill Montana's lone congressional seat features a Republican tech millionaire who portrays himself as a gun-loving, fly-fishing Montanan living the life in God's country against a populist Democratic crooner making his first run for office.
Greg Gianforte and Rob Quist are vying to replace Republican Ryan Zinke, who's now President Donald Trump's interior secretary. Republicans have held the seat for two decades.
The conservative Gianforte backs Trump policies from increased border protection to repealing the Affordable Care Act; Quist is a popular Flathead Valley musician who depicts himself as a commoner.
Gianforte, a 55-year-old Bozeman entrepreneur, lost a November bid to unseat Montana's popular Democratic governor, Steve Bullock. He made his fortune when he sold his software company, RightNow Technologies, to Oracle in 2011 for $1.8 billion.
That wealth, Gianforte emphasized in his campaign, means he can't be bought. He said that as an engineer he'd be a problem-solver in Washington. He took to calling Thursday's election a referendum on the Trump administration and portrayed Quist as an "out of touch liberal" in a state that voted strongly for Trump.
Quist, a singer and guitarist for the Mission Mountain Wood Band, won the Democratic nomination after he was endorsed by former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer. The 69-year-old prefers cowboy hats and big-buckled belts and tangled with Gianforte on topics from abortion to tax policy, gun rights to health care.
Quist ran into trouble when he acknowledged three liens for unpaid income taxes and a $10,000 loan default, among other financial problems.
Libertarian Mark Wicks, a cattle rancher and writer, pleaded with voters to consider him a sensible alternative to the two major party candidates.