Montana’s Sole Democratic Campaign for House Opens

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — John Lewis on Monday opened his campaign to become the first Democrat to win Montana’s U.S. House seat since the 1990s by taking aim at a divided Congress.

But he offered few specifics on the issues to about 50 supporters at a Helena labor hall.

Lewis, a longtime staffer for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, left his role as state director earlier this year to organize his House run.

The Billings native said in an interview before the event that he wants to help get Congress functioning again so routine matters like the farm and other infrastructure bills can move forward. He will be campaigning against the current dysfunction in Washington, D.C., with a message of “getting back to basics.”

“Congress is not working for Montana and working families, and it shows in what is going on today,” Lewis said of the government shutdown. “I am interested in working together for solutions.”

Lewis promised a pragmatic approach to governing and generally steered clear of specifics on the issues. He also said he would hold town halls around the state.

Like Montana’s current delegation, Lewis said he supports the Keystone XL pipeline running from Canada through the state that has yet to be approved by the Obama administration.

And he backs the bulk of the health care law written by his old boss, although he said he wants some changes. He didn’t specify what those changes would be, but he said the Republican effort to repeal the law during shutdown negotiations was not practical.

“No piece of legislation that passes is perfect. Is the health care law perfect? No. Does it need changes? Yes,” Lewis said. “But it is not an option to go back to what we had before.”

Lewis said meeting with local government leaders in all the state’s counties indicated that voters want pragmatic solutions over grandstanding. He expects a promise to deliver those results will be a winning formula for a seat Democrats last held when U.S. Rep. Pat Williams was in office in 1997.

Lewis is so far the sole Democrat raising money for the race. His campaign said fundraising totals to be released Tuesday will show Lewis has raised nearly $200,000 in about six weeks.

Several Republicans are either in the race or considering a run. Many expect Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines to announce a campaign for the retiring Baucus’ Senate seat.

State Sen. Matt Rosendale, a Glendive rancher and real estate developer, has said he is considering one of the federal offices and is expected this week to announce a run for the House seat. He has raised $321,000 so far, with $250,000 of it his own money.

Former state Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings has had some fundraising success so far, building off his second-place finish last year in the crowded GOP primary for governor. State Rep. Champ Edmunds of Missoula has said he would switch his U.S. Senate run to a House run if Daines indeed pursues the Senate seat. And former state Sen. Ryan Zinke of Whitefish, a retired Navy SEAL, has said he is considering a run for one of the offices.

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