Unexpectedly Weak Showings by Gernant and French

By Beacon Staff

In the homestretch leading to Montana’s Democratic congressional primary, it appeared Tyler Gernant, a young attorney from Missoula, was gaining momentum in a race that had none.

Supporters were touting his endorsement from popular Missoula Mayor John Engen. <a href="http://www.flatheadbeacon.com/articles/article/crowded_montana_democratic_primary_too_close_to_call/18014/" title="Even the Associated Press“>Even the Associated Press thought he might just have a chance against frontrunner Dennis McDonald, who had union backing and is the former chair of the state Democratic Party.

In the end, it wasn’t even close. In a four-way race, Gernant mustered 24 percent of the vote to McDonald’s 38 percent. Melinda Gopher placed third, 21 percent, and Sam Rankin fourth, 16 percent.

So, what happened? Over at Flathead Memo, James Conner attributes Gernant’s poor showing partly to absentee voting. He writes:

First, I believe that early voting hurt Gernant. His campaign gathered steam during the last half of May, but by then a lot of Democrats, the ones who reject the idea that they have a responsibility to keep their minds open until the campaign ends, had voted – and a lot of them voted for McDonald. Early voting almost always helps the initially better known candidate.

Then there were the Republicans. Last week, Fox News featured a story on how anti-incumbent fever had swept the nation and included Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg on a list of those “facing the testiest challenges” Tuesday.

His challenger Mark French, who many considered more conservative than Rehberg, was expected to at least make a strong showing. Instead, Rehberg cruised to victory, garnering almost 75 percent of the vote.

On Tuesday, so-called anti-establishment candidates made strong showings in statewide races in parts of the country. Just not here.