HELENA — Montana Republicans are tentatively targeting the beginning of February to pick a candidate for U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke’s replacement, while Democrats plan to hold their own nominating convention within a week of whenever Gov. Steve Bullock calls for a special election, officials said Tuesday.
The timing depends on Zinke’s confirmation as President-elect Trump’s Interior secretary. That will trigger Bullock’s call for a special election to be held between 85 and 100 days later to fill the vacancy in the state’s one U.S. House seat.
GOP chairman Jeff Essmann said a best-case scenario is that the U.S. Senate will hold a confirmation hearing next week and then vote on Zinke by the end of the month. If that timing plays out, the Republican nominating convention will be held the first week of February, Essmann said.
Democratic Party chairwoman Nancy Keenan was not available for comment on Tuesday. Party spokeswoman Kristen Cates said Democrats don’t have a target date for their convention, but they are making preparations now to quickly hold one once Zinke leaves his congressional seat.
Both Essmann and Cates said it is important to select a candidate as quickly as possible, so that person has the maximum amount of time to run an abbreviated statewide election campaign.
“You’ve got to raise a lot of money, you’ve got to travel a big state and you’ve got no time to do it,” Essmann said.
Cates said party leaders are working with central committee members and delegates across the state to organize quickly.
“It sounds like out in (Washington) D.C. things are moving along pretty quickly, but we don’t know for sure yet,” Cates said. “It’s a floating, moving target.”
Zinke was re-elected to a second term in November before Trump picked the former Navy SEAL for his cabinet. That means Zinke’s replacement will serve nearly all of his two-year term, if Zinke is confirmed.
The Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties will be able to nominate candidates to run in the special election. An independent candidate must turn in a petition with more than 14,200 signatures to appear on the ballot.
So far, various people have expressed interest in running, including multiple state legislators, attorneys and a musician. Republicans are requiring that those who want to be considered at the nomination convention pay a $1,740 filing fee.
“You should be serious, and frankly, from an election mechanics standpoint, this is much harder running in a special election than it is in a normal election for the House,” Essmann said. “This is going to require a lot of skill and effort.”
Democrats won’t have a filing fee for potential candidates, party officials have said.