Guest opinion: Western Congressional District a must win for Democrats | Columnists


When Americans go to the polls this year, they will be making their most critical choices in generations. At stake is whether Democrats will still be in a majority in the United States Congress, or whether control will be turned over to a Republican party that is still in the thrall of Donald Trump and veering far to the right. Whether we will meet the climate challenge, redress the growth of inequality, rebuild our economy, and protect reproductive rights and democratic institutions all hang in the balance.

Keeping, let alone expanding, its majority will be an uphill battle for Democrats. Because of the structure of our Federal system and deliberate Republican gerrymandering, when compared to the popular vote, Democrats are already underrepresented in both the Senate and House and in state legislatures all across the country.

Much of this under-representation is embedded in smaller, more rural states. Just consider Montana and its neighboring states of North Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho. In the 2020 Congressional elections, something around 40% of the electorate in those four states voted Democratic, yet between them they have only one Democratic member of Congress — Montana’s own Jon Tester.

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But it’s not just the system that makes it tough for Democrats in states like Montana to elect members of Congress. All across the country, including in Montana, Democrats have lost support among rural voters. That’s due, in part, to simple neglect. In some places Democrats have turned their attention to other constituencies and stopped engaging with rural voters. But there’s something more: for a long time, Montana voters were famous for ticket splitting — they’d vote for a Republican in one race and a Democrat in another. That meant they were evaluating candidates carefully and voting for the person, and not just the party. But sadly, those days seem to be behind us. We are now divided into warring, partisan camps, and it’s hard for Democrats, or Republicans for that matter, to appeal to voters in the middle, because there are so few voters there.

If we Democrats want to retain, or better yet expand, our majorities in Congress, and move the nation forward and away from the divisions that currently plague us, we have to do much better than we have been at meeting the needs and securing the votes of rural voters. And that’s where Montana, and Monica Tranel, come in.

Montana’s new, western Congressional district is a must win for Democrats if we are to keep our majority in the U.S. House. And it’s a must-win for Republicans if they want to take our majority away. The race will attract a lot of attention, and probably a lot of money, but in the end it will be won by the candidate who can appeal to all of the district’s voters, urban and rural, and can reach out and break down those hard partisan walls people are sheltering behind in this time of deep divisions. Monica Tranel is that candidate.

Monica grew up in Montana. She can listen to, understand, and respect the concerns and aspirations of Montanans in every corner of the state. She knows how to bridge the partisan divide, and will be respected for her integrity, energy and ability. As a lawyer and forceful advocate for ranchers, small businesses, individuals and consumers, she has taken on powerful corporations and won. She is a workhorse, whether that means rowing for the United States in the Olympics, getting breakfast for her daughters, litigating in court, or showing up at public meetings and speaking her mind. Electing Monica Tranel will help America down the road it must travel.

Nancy Keenan is the former executive director for the Montana Democratic Party, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the former State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Montana. 



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Debbie A. Cunningham

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