Tester, Williams, Bullock rally thousands in Missoula ahead of decisive election

Sen. Jon Tester, left, and Gov. Steve Bullock lead several thousand Missoulians in a rally on Sunday. Missoula County could decide whether Tester wins reelection and whether Kathleen Williams unseats Rep. Greg Gianforte. The Montana Democratic Party placed the “magic number” at 72 percent – the percent both candidates must win by in Missoula County to win the state. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Undeterred by President Donald Trump’s fourth campaign stop in Montana on Saturday, state Democrats countered by rallying several thousand people in Missoula on Sunday, pushing to reelect Sen. Jon Tester and send Kathleen Williams to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The future of health care, public lands, education and disclosure of dark money in politics, among other issues, are riding on the outcome of Tuesday’s election, they said.

“There’s only two more days ’til election day,” Tester said, holding up his left hand, which has just two fingers. (The others were lost in a meat grinder when he was a boy.)

“If we’re going to keep public lands in public hands, you’ve got to vote,” Tester said. “If you’ve got a preexisting condition and you want to make sure you have coverage going forward without allowing insurance companies to kick you off the policy, you’ve got to vote.”

Like Trump’s rally in Missoula last month, Sunday’s event included this year’s well-known talking points, including “Maryland Matt” and his voting record on public lands, veterans issues, and his ties to the insurance lobby.

“In the Legislature, Matt Rosendale voted against disclosure and transparency,” said Tiffany Muller. “He thinks you don’t deserve to know who’s funding these ads on TV. And he rubber-stamped a 23 percent rate increase and called it reasonable. Those same insurance companies are putting tens of thousands of dollars into his campaign account.”

Muller, who serves as the executive director of End Citizens United, called Tester a “champion” who has a proven track record of working to shine light on campaign spending and rid politics of dark money.

End Citizens United resulted from a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that granted personhood to corporations. It also decided that money equals speech. Tester introduced a constitutional amendment in 2013 to overturn the high court’s ruling.

“Citizens United put a for-sale sign on our democracy, and we’re dedicated to undoing that damage,” Muller said. “To do that, we have to get (Tester) reelected. There’s been no bigger champion on fighting Citizens United since the day it was decided than Jon Tester.”

As in past years, the turnout in Missoula County could sway the outcome of Tuesday’s election. Nancy Keenan, the executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, placed the “magic number” in Missoula County at 72 percent.

Gov. Steve Bullock offered a similar view.

“I won Missoula County by 20,000 votes,” Bullock said. “And guess what? I won the state election by 20,000 votes because of what you did for us.”

Kathleen Williams, the state’s Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, rallies several thousand Missoulians on Sunday. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Tuesday’s turnout could also decide whether Kathleen Williams unseats Rep. Greg Gianforte, or if the freshman congressman holds his seat.

Leading the crowd in cheers, Williams painted a starkly different picture between her agenda and Gianforte’s voting record in Congress. Among the issues, she named public lands, agriculture, tariffs and health care.

Williams also focused in on Gianforte’s unwillingness to meet face to face with constituents outside the comfort of prearranged and closed meetings. It’s a practice that has earned Gianforte widespread criticism.

“He promised to be the voice for Montanans in Congress, but I’m the one traveling the state and listening to everyone and allowing the public to comment,” Williams said.

“Gianforte promised to stand up for a better health care system, but I’m the one with a plan for everyone, not just repeal,” she added. “I’m the one who will be the champion for Medicare and Social Security. I’ve been saying it for a year.”

Sunday’s event also include Rex Renk, who is running for clerk of the Montana Supreme Court. While the office gets little attention, Renk said several key issues could ride on Tuesday’s election.

“It’s the clerk of the Supreme Court that makes sure all Montanans, no matter their background, no matter their status, receive fair, equal and open access to court records,” Renk said, standing beside a dinosaur mascot. “Your vote will ensure that integrity and true leadership won’t go extinct this election.”