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Quist Activating Final Week Door-To-Door Ground Game

Gerry and Chuck Jennings, volunteers for Democrat Rob Quist's campaign, go over their door knocking assignments Monday in Great Falls
Corin Cates-Carney
Gerry and Chuck Jennings, volunteers for Democrat Rob Quist's campaign, go over their door knocking assignments Monday in Great Falls

With just three days remaining in the race to become Montana’s next congressman, both major parties are working their ground games. And the candidates are hitting the state’s population centers in final efforts to get their bases to the polls.

Democrat Rob Quist’s supporters knocked on doors in Great Falls last night.

Quist met with them at a labor union hall before sending them out to the streets, stressing the importance of their work.

“Literally the eyes of the nation and the world I think are on Montana right now, because of the election," Quist told them.

The race between Quist and Republican Greg Gianforte is drawing press and attention from around the country. Many see the special elections here and in Georgia as referendums on President Donald Trump. If Democrats can flip or even run close in seats previously held by Republicans, it could indicate the future fortunes of the President and his party.

Many Democrats, including Quist, think sentiment against Trump is moving momentum their way.

“I had a chance to call some of the volunteers who were working on my behalf. And so of course I couldn’t help but ask how things are on the ground" Quist said, "and there was just a palpable excitement.”

Cascade County showed last November that no political party has this county locked in for a win.

It was one of about a half-dozen counties that split their ballots between Republican Donald Trump for president, and Democrat Steve Bullock for Governor. Trump won Cascade County by 20 points, Bullock by 10.

Jim Weber from Great Falls volunteered to knock on doors in Great Falls for Quist yesterday. He says this short 85-day race could be decided by who turns out to vote in this unusual election.

“A lot of what happens in Cascade Country is a reflection of what happens in the state, if people come out to vote here," Weber says. "If people come out to vote here, (if) Cascade county does well, I think Democrats will do well in this case. If they sit home and don't want to vote, then that gives support to other folks in the state.”

Before Weber and other volunteers went out knocking, Quist’s campaign gave them a packet of names and addresses, telling them which doors to knock on and who lives behind them.

Volunteers Gerry and Chuck Jennings moved to Great Falls more than 40 years ago when Chuck found a job in orthopedic surgery. On Monday, their door knocking packages are spread across the hood of their car, in a new neighborhood with lots of young couples on the south side of Great Falls.

At the first door they stop at, Matthew Sielski agrees to talk with with the Jennings about Rob Quist.

"It’s just been pretty interesting to follow," he Sielski tells them. "I’m pretty excited to just see the results.

"Personally, I would say public lands," he says, when the Jennings ask him for his top issue in the race.

He says he's a hunter, and Chuck tells him, "Rob is certainly a champion of public lands."

Sielski eventually says Rob Quist has his vote. The Jennings tell him thank you and put a mark on one of their stacks of paper noting his the support for Quist. Then they walk on to the next door.

Not every door they knock on ends up with this smooth and agreeable conversation. Lots of people aren’t home. Others don’t want to talk about their political beliefs with a stranger at the the door. And in that case the Jennings just walk away.

“Because we have to respect the fact that they are voting for the opponent and that’s it," Gerry says. "We don't leave any borchure or anything else because at that point it isn’t worth it. But we’ve found, because Chuck and I have knocked a lot of doors, we’ve found that we’ve really made an impact with some people, in just talking with them and educating them about the differences between the two.”

Gerry Jennings has done this kind of work before. She says she’s seeing more organized support for Rob Quist during this special election then she saw for Hillary Clinton in the entire 2016 election. She says the same is true for Democratic Denise Juneau, who lost to Ryan Zinke in the House Race last year. Jennings says it gave the party a wake up call.

“So I think we’re going to see a difference," Gerry says. "I really do. I think we’ve gotten kind of lethargic and just assumed other people were going to do it. And other people can’t. You have to get out and do it yourself.”

Whether that’s true won’t be known until after the polls close at 8:00 PM this Thursday. Montana’s Republican party is also trying to motivate volunteers to knock on doors, make phone calls and otherwise get out the vote.

Their candidate Greg Gianforte was scheduled to be in Great Falls this morning for a “meet and greet” event, part of a 7 city tour of the state between now and election day.

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Corin Cates-Carney is the Flathead Valley reporter for MTPR.