After a whirlwind closing week to the Montana Special Election, the vote results came in as predicted, even if everything else wildly exceeded the expectations.
As Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight put it “You might even say that the results were a bit predictable, as crazy as the journey was to get here.”
However, Greg Gianforte’s conduct was anything but predictable. After “body-slamming” a reporter, Gianforte was the top of the national news cycle, with many pundits and national political figures weighing in to condemn his actions.
Among those who rebuked Gianforte was House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said about the incident “I do not think this is acceptable behavior”
Montana Senator Steve Daines even weighed in, calling on Gianforte to “apologize”. An apology finally came, but after the vote was already decided.
Now that Gianforte has won, where does he go from here?
It’s likely that the “body slam” incident will be baggage that Gianforte will continue to carry. David Erickson at the Missoulian already has a great piece out analyzing the likely rough road ahead for Gianforte in Congress.
Something that hasn’t been talked about however is what this means for Gianforte’s political future.
It has been painfully obvious that Congress was not Mr. Gianforte’s first choice, he wanted the Governor’s seat. Many saw running for Congress as a step towards running again for the open seat for Governor in 2020.
However, Gianforte is likely now “damaged goods”. He may continue to run for re-election for his house seat, but from our perspective there can be no upward movement for him after his conduct this election, at least in the foreseeable future.
Where does this leave the GOP’s candidate field for 2018 Senate and 2020 Governor?
The “damaged goods” of Gianforte has made the path forward at least a bit more clear for Montana AG Tim Fox. It’s been known that Fox has been angling to run for Governor in 2020. As a respected statewide office holder, he’d be a formidable candidate.
But Gianforte is very close with Senator Daines, who holds considerable political sway in the party. His nomination for the special election was seen by many as Daines clearing the way for Gianforte to run again for Governor in 2020. With that in mind, there is speculation that Fox has been encouraged to run for Senate against Tester in 2018 in order to further clear potential challenges to Gianforte 2020.
But with Gianforte’s incident, Fox is likely back in the reigns. He could still run for Senate in 2018, but it’s more likely that he will coast the next 3 years promoting his positive state-based initiatives and run in 2020 for Governor.
With that being the likely scenario, the real question is who will run against Tester in 2018?
We will continue to monitor developments as 2018 approaches.