Poet/Musician Rob Quist travels rocky political road in U.S. House race

Democratic U.S. House candidate Rob Quist

KALISPELL – This story is the second of a three-part series, profiling the candidates in the May 25 special election for Montana’s sole U.S. House seat.

In a room packed with supporters at a Kalispell schoolhouse last weekend, Democratic U.S. House candidate and musician Rob Quist brought them to their feet – with a poem he wrote about his love affair with Montana.

“She’s slow to grant her favors to come-lately newer faces,” Quist recited. “To long-time suitors, she reveals her hidden secret places. … If you’re a man of honor, you must cherish and protect her.”

Quist, 69, told the Democratic crowd that strategists have said he can’t lose too badly in his home territory, Flathead County, a longtime Republican stronghold, if he hopes to win the state.

But Quist said he plans to do better than that and “win the Flathead,” en route to an upset victory over Republican Greg Gianforte and Libertarian Mark Wicks in Montana’s special congressional election on May 25.

Quist, a surprise candidate making his first run for political office, would be an even more surprising victor, in a state where Republican Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 20 percentage points and Republicans swept to victory last year in every statewide race but one.

And the only statewide Republican loser last November – Gianforte, in a close race against Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock – has fully embraced Trump, betting that the president and the GOP haven’t lost their shine in Montana in just six short months.

Quist, however, says he’s not concerned about being the underdog, given that he’s fairly well-known by a generation of Montanans and is pitching himself as an “independent voice” that will speak for all Montanans, regardless of party.

“This is less about party and about being a Montanan,” the Cut Bank native told MTN News in an interview last week. “We agree on so many of the issues here in the state. … I plan to represent the entire state of Montana.”

Quist emerged as a candidate late last year, after it was announced that then U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke would resign his seat once becoming Interior secretary under President Trump.

Quist is known as a co-founder in the 1970s of the iconic Mission Mountain Wood Band, whose surviving members still occasionally perform together, and has toured the state and region with his own country band, Great Northern.

Backed by former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Quist won the state Democratic Party’s nomination at a special convention March 5.

Politically, Quist talks like a Populist liberal, saying the wealthy classes have dominated politics for too long and that he represents the Everyman.

Quist points out that his campaign has raised more than $4 million itself from more than 150,000 people, giving an average of $25 each – and that he’s up against national Republican Party groups that have spent more than $4 million on ads and mailers attacking him and Gianforte, a multimillionaire businessman, has loaned his own campaign $1 million.

“It signifies the fact that the people of Montana and the people of this nation are backing me,” he told MTN News. “Again, standing against a millionaire’s club. Let’s just call it how it is. … There are enough millionaires in Congress. We need somebody who is going to represent everybody else.”

Tomorrow’s spotlight is Greg Gianforte.