As Greg Gianforte campaigns for the state’s lone congressional seat left vacant after Ryan Zinke became the U.S. Interior Secretary, his pledge to “drain the swamp,” limit federal overreach and uphold Montana values has emerged as a familiar refrain.
A Bozeman-based Republican, Gianforte is a tech entrepreneur and multi-millionaire who sold his self-made company RightNow Technologies to Oracle in 2012. Although he has never held public office, Gianforte’s name recognition was elevated by his unsuccessful bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock in 2016.
Despite his gubernatorial defeat, Gianforte said his ambition is as strong as ever, and that his status as a Washington outsider will benefit a fractious legislature beset by career politicians.
“I personally believe we need term limits. I’m certainly not running to spend the rest of my life in Washington, D.C.,” he told local business and community leaders at a Kalispell Chamber of Commerce event April 13. “I have spent my entire career balancing the budget, and in the private sector, if someone doesn’t do their job, they don’t get paid. I don’t think legislators should get paid if they don’t do their job. We don’t have a lot of fiscal discipline in Washington and that needs to change.”
Gianforte is challenging Democrat Rob Quist, a Creston musician, and Libertarian Mark Wicks in a special election on May 25.
Gianforte has outraised Quist and is expected to enjoy a boost from a high-ticket ad buy from the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as an upcoming visit to Montana by Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.
Still, the campaigns are tracking in opposite directions as Quist crisscrosses the state hosting public rallies, while Gianforte attends unpublicized gatherings and invite-only roundtable discussions with community leaders and industry groups — a tactic Quist’s campaign has seized on to portray the Republican as being out of step with Montana.
But Gianforte said he’s personally driven 75,000 miles across Montana in the past year, meeting with residents in every corner of the state and opting to stay with private citizens along the way instead of hotels.
After the April 13 chamber event, Gianforte headed to Split Rock Café in downtown Kalispell, and said connecting with Montanans has solidified his “drain the swamp” mantra as well as his belief that businesses are chafing under the constraints of burdensome federal regulations.
“I am not hiding,” he said. “I’ve talked to all kinds of Montanans, and federal overreach is the number one concern that keeps coming up. I think better decisions get made locally and we don’t need bureaucrats in Washington telling us what to do.”
Gianforte said he’s thrilled that Trump Jr. is joining the campaign trail next week in Kalispell, Hamilton, Billings and Bozeman on April 21 and 22. Tickets for the events start at $35 each and are available at www.trumpinmontana.com.
The Republican has called the upcoming election a referendum on Trump’s administration, and praised the President’s decisions to enforce hiring freezes in federal agencies, saying “the first thing you do when you’re in a hole is stop digging.”
“There’s a lot of people who want Donald Trump to fail,” Gianforte said. “I’m going back to helping him succeed.”