President Donald Trump is making his third trip to Montana during this year's midterm election, but this time he's coming to Missoula, one of the most liberal cities in the state.
Trump is set to return for a campaign-style rally in Missoula, tentatively set for Oct. 18. A location hasn't been announced but sites at the University of Montana campus and the airport are being considered, the Missoulian has learned.
The Missoula County Sheriff's Office posted on its Facebook page Thursday that it was planning to meet with the U.S. Secret Service about security measures for a presidential visit.
Trump is coming to campaign on behalf of Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale, who is trying to unseat two-term incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in this year's midterm election.
Montana's Senate contest is one of the most closely watched in the nation. It's one of 10 places where incumbent Democratic senators are seeking re-election in states Trump won in 2016.
Trump has also focused on Tester since April, when Tester brought forward allegations made against Trump's nominee to run the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson. Jackson was accused of improperly prescribing medications and drinking while on duty. The Pentagon launched an investigation into the claims and Jackson withdrew his nomination. Trump attacked Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, on Twitter and Fox News, saying he'd have a "big price to pay."
Trump previously came to Great Falls and Billings, located in two counties seen as potential toss-ups in the election. Tester won Cascade and Yellowstone counties in his most recent election, 2012.
Both counties supported Trump by wide margins in 2016. But in Montana's ticket-splitting fashion, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock won Cascade County with 54 percent of the vote that same year and lost to his Republican challenger by only 500 votes in Yellowstone County.
Other Trump surrogates, including Donald Trump Jr. and Vice President Mike Pence, have also had an out-sized campaign presence in Montana, a state with just over 1 million people. Pence has come to Bozeman and Billings and Trump Jr. has stumped in those towns and in Ravalli County, south of Missoula, as well.
Trump got just 37 percent of the vote in Missoula County; he did worse only in Glacier County in 2016. It's home to the University of Montana and is thought of as one of the most reliably Democratic areas of the state.
But Missoula borders Ravalli County to the south, one of the most conservative places in the state, and deeply conservative Flathead County is just a short drive to the north. Those two locations are reliable Republican strongholds that often send some of the most conservative GOP lawmakers to the state Legislature. Trump took more than 65 percent of the vote in both counties and Republicans dominated there in other statewide races in 2016.
There have been protesters at previous rallies for both Trump and surrogates, but a stronger presence is expected in Missoula. Painting protesters as "radical" and "mobs" and using them to rally the GOP base has become a part of the party's playbook since the widespread protests after the appointment of now-Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Much of Rosendale's campaign has focused on his allegiance to Trump, saying he'd back the president's agenda while Tester would be an "obstructionist." Tester, however, has voted with Trump more often than other members of his party.
A spokesman for Tester's campaign said, as with past rallies, Tester would like to see Trump use his trip to Montana to see first-hand the issues facing the state.
“Sen. Tester thinks President Trump’s visit to Montana could be a great opportunity to discuss the challenges facing rural America by visiting Montana veterans facilities," said Luke Jackson, citing the Southwest Montana Veterans Home and veterans home in Columbia Falls.
"... While Jon Tester is fighting for Montana every day, Matt Rosendale is only looking out for himself,” Jackson said.
When Trump visited Great Falls in July, the cost to local, county and state agencies was about $80,000. That included about $25,000 for 41 troopers from the Montana Highway Patrol; $14,900 for city staff, and $17,595 to the county. Trump’s September visit to Billings and campaign rally at MetraPark cost the police department $45,900 in overtime, plus another $13,000 for the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s office, for a total of $59,000. The city’s public works department also was involved, using 14 trucks to block intersections during portions of Trump’s visit.
“I’m not really enthused about draining our county coffers for the security requirements of a presidential visit at this point in time,” said Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “This isn’t something we have budgeted for. I guess we will figure this out as we go. I would love it if the White House would cover any additional costs to local government.”
But local hotels, restaurants and other businesses in Missoula might benefit from out-of-town visitors during the rally.
Cris Jensen, the director of the Missoula International Airport, said he and his staff have had “general conversations” with the Secret Service about the airport’s ability to handle certain types of aircraft.
In 2008, both Democratic presidential candidates visited Missoula. Then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama held an event at the Adams Center at the University of Montana, and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton held a town hall meeting at Neptune Aviation near the Missoula International Airport.
The Adams Center has a “hold” for a different event on Oct. 18, according to the university.
Missoula County GOP chair Vondene Kopetski said her phone started ringing nonstop on Thursday as the rumors started flying about a visit by Trump.
“It’s bedlam,” she said, putting her phone on silent for five minutes at the GOP office on Brooks Street to sit down for an interview with the Missoulian. “My phone’s ringing off the hook, my staff’s phones have been ringing as well, and people have been coming in all day long since early morning.”
She said most people are curious about how to get tickets or what time the President’s rally might start. Kopetski hadn’t heard any firm details, nor had Miki Carver, the Montana communications director for the Republican National Committee.
Kopetski said Republicans in the region are excited.
“At all of the Trump events we’ve had in Montana, we’ve had people coming from throughout the United States,” she said. “And we have already had people calling from Wisconsin, from Texas, from Seattle, from Portland, all the surrounding states. So it’ll be good for Missoula.”
Kopetski challenged the notion that Missoula is a “liberal” town. She said there’s been an uptick in Republican votes in recent elections here.
“We’re seeing an increase in the numbers of Republican candidates that are winning some of these races and I think we’re going to see more of that,” she said.
Kopetski said people are “sick and tired” of seeing their taxes go up “every time they turn around.”
“Taxpayers are fed up,” she said. “We get calls all the time from people being taxed out of their homes. Especially the elderly and single families and single moms raising kids.
"It is so interesting because for many years the Democrats have touted themselves the party of the little people, and that is simply not true. It is the Republicans looking out for people who maybe can’t take care of themselves. They have got nothing from the Democrat party for years.”
Having the sitting U.S. president visit Missoula is a historic event, she said.
“I think you will see people turning out for this Trump event that are not necessarily Republicans,'' she said. "They are going to turn out because this is a man who has made good on the promises he’s made and those promises were not just for Republicans. They have helped anybody and everybody throughout the United States.''
The last time a sitting U.S. President visited Missoula was 1954, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower became an honorary smokejumper.