As impeachment plays out in Washington, D.C., Republicans running for federal-level races in Montana all fall in line with their party's message that it's an attempt to undo the 2016 election, while Democratic candidates back the process with some staking out more aggressive positions than others.
“For Republicans it’s pretty easy to stick with what the party has said and say, ‘I’m opposed to impeachment,’” said Lee Banville, a political analyst and professor at the University of Montana. For Democrats, however, “it's a trickier position."
Democratic primary voters are more inclined to want a candidate to intensely back the impeachment process, Banville said. But to win in the general election, a Democrat needs to capture more moderates and independents who might think the president did something wrong but think impeaching him is too severe of a response.
Montana Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte is expected to vote next week on the two articles of impeachment the House Judiciary committee voted along party lines Friday to forward to the full House. Gianforte has called impeachment a "sham process." Because Gianforte is not seeking re-election in 2020 and instead is running for governor, his seat is open with eight declared candidates.
Five Republicans have filed to run for the House, and those who responded to questions from Lee Newspapers on Friday all opposed impeachment, falling in line with the views of Republicans in Congress.
State Auditor Matt Rosendale said Friday the process was an attempt to reverse Trump’s election.
"I strongly oppose these shameful, unfounded and unsubstantiated articles of impeachment. Nancy Pelosi and the entire Democrat Party are obsessed with taking whatever action necessary to overturn the will of the people and undo the results of the 2016 election,” Rosendale said in a statement. “This has been a charade from the beginning and this sham must not advance to the U.S. Senate.”
Republican Joe Dooling, who is the former chair of the party in Lewis and Clark County, said Friday’s vote marked “one of the saddest days in America’s history.”
“There’s no crime, there’s no misdemeanor,” Dooling said. “It comes down to a ‘I just don’t like this president’ type of attitude. This is a dangerous precedent. … The president is going to be up or down in 10 more months and this process has been a sham from the beginning and it remains a sham,” Dooling said.
Former state GOP chair Debra Lamm said that she does not support impeachment and that "the political class in Washington and their Democratic allies only care about undoing the results of the 2016 election."
Lamm said she did not believe Trump had done anything improper. "The Ukrainian president has said repeatedly there was no quid pro quo," Lamm said.
Secretary of State Corey Stapleton did not return a message seeking comment. Timothy Allen Johnson, of Corvallis, could not be reached.
House candidate Democrat Kathleen Williams, who emerged from the primary for that seat in 2018 and lost to Gianforte by five points in the general election that year, said in a statement: “The president has been accused of serious crimes, and now he can lay out his case in the Senate. I look forward to hearing what he has to say, and to Congress getting back to the work of the people.”
A focus on moving forward makes sense for a Democrat trying to emerge from the primary, Banville said.
“This is far trickier for Democrats, who have to navigate constituents and supporters who are livid about this and want the president gone but who are only a portion of the people you need to win over statewide,” Banville said. “The more you cater to your base, the more it may be hard to run statewide as a Democrat.”
The other Democrats in that race, state Rep. Tom Winter and Simms rancher Matt Rains, both said they support the two articles of impeachment.
Winter said "the evidence supporting impeachment is overwhelming and the facts have gone uncontested."
"The president used our taxpayer dollars to bribe a foreign official and then sought to cover it up. That is an abuse of power for personal gain at the expense of national security, plain and simple," Winter said.
Rains also called for a robust process in the Senate and focused on moving forward.
“We are too damaged to not have a verdict. The vast majority of us want the same for our families, state, country, and even the world,” Rains said. “For some reason though, hatred has erupted between us. I would pursue any course to bring us back to respect and compassion for one another."
Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who is seeking re-election in 2020, would participate in the expected trial in the Senate. Daines on Friday also called the impeachment process an attempt to alter the outcome of the presidential election three years ago.
“Democrats have been obsessed with impeachment since the moment President Trump was elected. Instead of focusing on the work they were elected to do, Nancy Pelosi and her team of liberal extremists are only focused on one thing — undoing the results of the 2016 election,” Daines said in a statement. “It’s long overdue that the Democrats get over their impeachment obsession and get back to work for the American people.”
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins said Friday it is critical for Congress to go through the process it is following now.
“If our national security is at risk, and our law enforcement and security agencies have said that, I think it’s incumbent upon Congress to do what they’re doing," Collins said.
If he were in the Senate now, Collins said he would weigh the evidence put before him. “That’s what a trial is about. You listen to the evidence, you listen to the arguments and then you make an informed decision,” Collins said, adding that he hopes the process going forward will be more bipartisan.
Democrat Cora Neumann, of Bozeman, aligned herself to the sitting Democrat from Montana in the U.S. Senate in her answer.
"I agree with Sen. Tester that we need to set politics aside and take these proceedings seriously. No one is above the law. These charges, if proven, threaten the integrity of our electoral system and our national security. The American people have entrusted the Senate to hold an objective trial. I hope the Senate lives up to their duty," Neumann said.
Democrat John Mues, of Loma, said that as a veteran who as been deployed to a combat zone and had high security clearance, he was deeply concerned about the erosion of national security.
"President Trump’s blackmailing of Ukraine's President Zelensky is, while an impeachable offense, but one piece in the larger puzzle of the GOP as a whole empowering and currying favor with the world’s dictators — from Putin to Erdogan, Bashar al-Assad to Mohammad Bin Salman — at the expense of America’s best interests, values, and allies," Mues said of respective leaders in Russia, Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia. "This is behavior that no one, regardless of party, should support."