With a once unthinkable loss in the Montana special election to fill a vacated GOP House seat suddenly looking possible, even likely, Republicans are using every trick in the book to keep it red. Occupy Democrats reported earlier this week how the GOP had already resorted to Nixon-era tactics to try to seal this election. Now, they’re outright flouting election laws.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence officially entered the fray this week, throwing their weight behind Republican candidate Greg Gianforte in his too-close-to-call race against Democrat Rob Quist. Both Trump and Pence recorded phone messages for robo-calls encouraging Montanans to vote for Gianforte in tomorrow’s election.
The problem? Robo-calls are explicitly ILLEGAL in Montana. Republicans know this, and so they’re circumventing the law by exploiting a conspicuous loophole in it: as long as a human makes the call, the recorded robo-call can be played to whoever answers it.
So the Montana State Republican Party are paying real people to call voters first, and after announcing who they are, they ask the call recipient if they’d like to hear a message from the President and Vice President. The human caller will then hit ‘play’ upon request. Though technically legal, this shady work-around is a clear violation of the law’s intent.
Montana’s sole House seat was vacated in March when Republican Ryan Zinke resigned to join the Trump administration as Secretary of the Interior. Replacing him with Gianforte was supposed to be a slam-dunk for the GOP in this deep-red state. Part of the calculus that the party in control of the White House uses to determine which congressmen and senators they can afford to lose to the incoming administration is whether or not their seat can be easily filled by another party member in the special election that follows their departure.
Montana was supposed to be easy, but now Republicans have found themselves in a dog fight to hold-on to this seat and maintain what’s already a thin majority in the House. Tomorrow’s election doesn’t threaten that majority directly, and Republicans will still have enough votes to advance their legislative agenda – assuming they find one.
But now the President’s reputation is on the line, and with another unexpectedly close special election in another normally-reliably red district in Georgia on deck, a win for the Democrats in Montana tomorrow would crush any remaining momentum Republicans have left.
Peter Mellado is a writer, producer, and a branding and messaging specialist with over 15 years experience. He studied history at San Jose State University, and resides in Los Angeles.