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Attorney General Tim Fox is deploying primary opponent Greg Gianforte’s own polling, and the incumbent U.S. representative’s grading by conservative groups, in his bid for the Republican nomination for Montana governor.
Using the results of the 2016 election as a predictor of his ability to appeal to Montana voters, Fox tells Montana Free Press editor-in-chief John S. Adams, “I got 96,000 more votes than Greg Gianforte, even though 17,000 fewer people voted in the attorney general race than did in the governor’s race.” Fox ran successfully for re-election in 2016, while Gianforte made an unsuccessful bid for governor. Gianforte later won a special election as Montana’s sole representative in the U.S. House in 2017, and was re-elected in 2018.
No Republican has held the governorship since Judy Martz left office in January 2005, and the party is eager to change that in 2020. Fox thinks he’s the best candidate to reclaim the office for the GOP in November. But first he’ll have to get past Gianforte and Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell in a three-way primary.
While Fox acknowledges the accomplishments of his primary opponents, he says the most important question facing Republican primary voters is: who is the most electable candidate to face off against the eventual Democratic nominee? Barring the entry of a new Democratic candidate between now and the March 9 filing deadline, that will be either current Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney or Missoula businesswoman Whitney Williams.
Fox claims voters have a negative perception of Gianforte that could pose a liability for the party in November, telling Adams, “He has nearly 100% name ID, and he can only muster 53%, if we believe his poll is true, of the Republican vote. Why is that? Because his negatives are so high, even among Republicans.” Fox is also critical of Gianforte’s voting record, arguing that national conservative groups including the American Conservative Union, Conservative Review, and Club For Growth have “given Greg Gianforte Ds and Fs for his votes and lack of conservatism in Congress.”
Fox will be termed out in 2021 after two terms as Montana’s top lawyer, and he highlights his accomplishments on issues including human trafficking, substance use, and his legal challenge of a Washington state law blocking the export of Montana coal as reasons voters should trust him as an advocate.
Fox tells Adams that he brought 51 agency bills to the Montana Legislature, “and 49 of those were passed overwhelmingly and signed into law. That’s unprecedented for an executive branch leader.”