What you need to know about Montana's governor race between Mike Cooney and Greg Gianforte

  • Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney is seeking to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock in Montana's gubernatorial election.
  • Cooney faces a challenge from Republican congressman Greg Gianforte, who is running for the state's highest office for the second time.
  • The governor's race is one of the most competitive in the country and is rated a toss-up by experts. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Democrat Mike Cooney is running against Republican Greg Gianforte in Montana's 2020 gubernatorial election. 

The candidates:

Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney is seeking to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who is running for Senate.

Cooney has decades of experience in Montana's political sphere, previously serving as state senator, legislator and secretary of state. He has been lieutenant governor since 2016.

The lifelong Montanan has made affordable healthcare a top priority of his campaign, hinging off of the coronavirus pandemic. Cooney pledges to lower the cost of prescription drugs and continue expanding access to Medicaid should he win. 

His Republican challenger Gianforte's campaign centers around boosting the economy. 

Gianforte, whose background is in business, became one of the state's wealthiest people when software behemoth Oracle bought his tech startup for $1.8 billion in 2011, which he co-founded in the late 1990s with his wife in Bozeman, Montana.

Five years later, Gianforte unsuccessfully tried to launch his political career in a largely self-financed bid against Bullock for the governorship. He lost by a slim 3.8 percentage points.

Gianforte then pursued a legislative opening in 2017 and won the special election for the state's sole congressional seat after the Trump administration appointed then-Rep. Ryan Zinke as Interior Secretary.

The candidate made national headlines on the eve of his victory when he allegedly bodyslammed a reporter, which he later apologized for and was charged with misdemeanor assault. 

President Donald Trump praised the congressman at a rally in Montana a year later: "Anybody that can do a body-slam," he said, "that's my kind of guy."

Gianforte has boasted about working with Trump to cut taxes and roll back "unnecessary burdensome regulations" — policies he vows to implement in Montana if elected and has slammed Cooney as a "career politician" who pushes for more "government red tape."

The stakes:

The 2020 gubernatorial contests are unlike recent election cycles considering the ongoing public health crisis. Eight out of the 11 races feature incumbents seeking reelection, who may have their fates decided based on their respective coronavirus responses. Still, some safe predictions have been casted, for example, Washington state will go blue and North Dakota will go red.

Montana, however, is a slightly different ballgame: the race is open, the competition is decidedly close and voters historically do not plainly side with one party over the other. 

Montana went to Trump in 2016 and has voted Republican in the past five presidential elections. The state's legislature is also GOP-controlled. Yet Democrats have held the state's highest office since 2005, and the elections have been won by narrow margins. 

A Gianforte victory over Cooney would bolster Republicans nationally, and would tip the party's currently held 26 out of 50 governorships further in its favor. 

Other major elections in Montana include the open US House race between Democrat Kathleen Williams and Republican State Auditor Matt Rosendale and the Senate race between Gov. Steve Bullock and incumbent Republican Steve Daines

The money race: Gianforte has the lead with roughly $4 million raised, with over $1.5 million in self-financing as of June 15. Cooney raked in $1.1 million during the same period.

What the polls say: The latest polls depict Gianforte ahead of Cooney, though the contest remains close. Gianforte led by 9 percentage points in an Emerson College survey conducted July 31-Aug. 2, an uptick from a Public Policy Polling projection made earlier in July, which showed a 4-point advantage. 

What the experts say: The race is rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

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