|Rob Quist Campaigning (Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)|
In this election, Greg Gianforte unabashedly supported Trump, and Trump Jr campaigned for him. Rob Quist, who started the race with little money, made healthcare his signature campaign issue. So, in a way it is not a overstatement to declare this special election was a referendum of Trump's policies.
How well did Rob Quist do across the state of Montana? More importantly, how well did he do in rural Montana? Although some analysts such as Martin Longman correctly point out that the Montana special election results indicate that Democrats have a problem in appealing to rural voters, a county-by-county analysis of Montana results shows that the democrats have managed to broaden their appeal in both rural and urban areas.
Compared to 2016 election, democrats on the average have gained at least 10 percentage points in most counties - urban and rural, across the state of Montana. In the graph below, if the center of the bubble falls in the blue region, it indicates that democrats performed better in 2017 compared to 2016. Looking at the graph, one can see that the democratic improvement in performance was not just restricted to traditionally blue counties (to the right of the vertical axis) but was also true for even deep red counties ( to the left of the vertical axis).
What is surprising is that the democrats performed better in the special election across the entire state - even in small rural counties - compared to 2016. How well did they do?
Based on these results, democrats have reason to be optimistic about their prospects in 2018. In Montana, Rob Quist campaigned in both rural and urban areas in his Winnebago. By showing up in these rural areas, Rob Quist was able to give voters a reason to consider him.
Democratic party establishment did not think that this seat was winnable, and until early May, did not commit funds to the campaign. It was the grassroots support that kept Rob Quist in the race. In the end, although both sides spent roughly the equal amount, it was telling that the republican party establishment was worried enough to pump a lot of money early in the race with negative advertisement to define Rob Quist, which ultimately might have made the difference in the race. On the democratic side, small donors fueled Rob Quist's campaign, and on the republican side, outside groups, heavily contributed to the Greg Gianforte's campaign.
There are two messages for democrats from this special election.
(1) Democrats can win even in deep red districts if they compete everywhere - rural Americans face the same issues: healthcare, education, and social mobility as urban Americans.
(2) Pick candidates who can talk to the anxieties of rural Americans who feel besieged by forces of globalization and automation, without pandering to them.