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Added Montana district could help GOP in battle for majority

For the first time in 40 years, Montana needed the redistricting process

Republican former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who gave up his seat to become Interior secretary in President Donald Trump's administration, is seeking to make a House comeback.
Republican former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who gave up his seat to become Interior secretary in President Donald Trump's administration, is seeking to make a House comeback. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — It’s been 40 years since Montana had to worry about congressional redistricting. The Treasure State was allocated a second seat in the most recent round of reapportionment — the last time that happened was after the 1980 census — and had to go through the process of bifurcating the state. 

Even though a Democratic presidential nominee hasn’t won Montana since Bill Clinton in 1992, the party had high hopes of securing one of the two new seats. However, a combination of the final partisanship of the districts and the broader political environment gives Republicans an opportunity to squeeze an extra seat out of Montana in their effort to gain five seats nationwide and secure the House majority. 

[More House race ratings | Initial Senate race ratings]

By gaining a second district, Montana is making history as the first state in history to bounce back to multiple House members after previously being reduced to one at-large district (which happened after the 1990 census), Jacob Rubashkin of Inside Elections reported. So an independent commission, with help from a tie-breaking chairperson, drew a single line and divided the state once again.

1st District (Open; new)

Democrats haven’t had a House representative from Montana since Rep. Pat Williams retired in 1997. In theory, this western district was supposed to break the streak. But while the newly drawn seat includes Bozeman, its absence of Helena (the state capital) and Great Falls, plus the political environment, could put this seat out of reach for Democrats in 2022. 

President Donald Trump would have won the seat by 7 points in 2020, while Republican Sen. Steve Daines would have carried it by just 1.2 points over Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock in the Senate race and Republican Matt Rosendale, who represents the current at-large seat, would have won it by 5 points. But considering that Democratic candidates underperformed by 12 points in last year’s New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races, the partisanship of this district looks challenging for them this cycle.

Three Democrats are running for the seat: nonprofit executive Cora Neumann, lawyer and 2020 Public Service Commission nominee Monica Tranel, and former state Rep. Tom Winter. The primary winner will likely face former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who previously held Montana’s at-large seat from 2015 to 2017, when he resigned to join Trump’s Cabinet. The former president has endorsed Zinke. Initial rating: Likely Republican.

2nd District (Matt Rosendale, R)

Rosendale could lay claim to either district since he currently represents the entire state. But he’s running for a second term in this eastern, rural district, where he lives and that has a significant Republican partisan advantage.

Trump would have won this newly drawn district by 27 points, 62 percent to 35 percent, in 2020, and Rosendale would have carried it by 25 points. (He won the at-large seat by nearly 13 points). Any vulnerability for the congressman would come up in a GOP primary. But Rosendale already has Trump’s endorsement, which should dissuade most ambitious challengers. Initial rating: Solid Republican.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.

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