HELENA — Musician and political newcomer Rob Quist on Sunday captured the Democratic nomination for the May 25 special election to fill the state’s only congressional seat.
Quist beat out seven other candidates, including two experienced legislators who trailed the entertainer from the start of Sunday’s balloting in Helena. Quist won after four rounds of voting.
Republicans are scheduled to pick their nominee on Monday.
Montana will be without a representative in the U.S. House until a successor is elected for Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, who resigned his seat last week after being confirmed to lead the U.S. Interior Department.
While the campaign trail is taking him in a new direction, Quist is accustomed to hitting the road. His long career as a singer and guitarist for the Mission Mountain Wood Band has taken him to every part of the state, he said.
“Montana is a community with very long streets — and I know all of them,” said Quist, who wore a cowboy hat, a leather blazer and an oversized belt buckle during the convention. Democratic leaders hope his cowboy persona will connect with voters, as he has with audiences who attend his shows.
He has traveled to more than 40 counties in recent weeks, he said, to begin meeting with voters and Democratic central committee members who gave their strong endorsement Sunday.
“Who better than a musician for a campaign like this?” he told reporters after being nominated. “It’s something I’ve been doing all my life.”
He’ll have to win in a state that went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump and swept in Republicans in every statewide office in November except for the governor’s office.
Republicans will choose from six candidates during their nomination convention, including Greg Gianforte, who was the party’s nominee for governor last fall.
A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee depicted Quist as a liberal of the Bernie Sanders mold.
“Think the far-left Quist has a shot in this red state after Montanans have rejected House Democrats in eleven straight elections? Look us in the eye and tell us with a straight face,” said the spokesman, Jack Pandol, in a statement emailed to reporters after the Democratic gathering.
Quist is making his first run for office in his party’s bid to recapture a seat that a Democrat has not held in 20 years.
“I come here not as a career politician rising through the ranks,” Quist told delegates in his opening speech. “As a poet-musician, I ask you to look outside the bubble of Helena to a man who has represented Montana from behind a different kind of microphone.”
Quist will have to quickly unify Democrats to help establish a ground game to win voters and to help him raise the money required to finance a serious campaign.
Quist began generating strong buzz within Democratic central committees — whose members formed the bulk of Sunday’s convention delegates — when former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer endorsed him.
From the start of balloting, it seemed clear that Quist was on his way to victory.
His top rivals, state Rep. Kelly McCarthy and Rep. Amanda Curtis, both pledged support for the party’s eventual nominee.
“We all know every candidate needs money. They need volunteers,” said Curtis, who was attempting to be only the second woman elected to Congress from the Treasure State.
“From this moment forward,” Curtis said, “every Democrat will have to hit the ground to let friends and neighbors know that we have a man who represents Big Sky country running for Congress.”