Indicating that hunger for a people's revolution continues to grow throughout the United States, thousands of Montanans packed rallies across the state this weekend to hear Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaign alongside Rob Quist, a career musician who is running for the open U.S. House seat in Thursday's upcoming special election.
"The eyes of the country are on the great state of Montana," Sanders told a crowd of 3,000 at the Butte Civic Center on Saturday. "If you do it here in Montana, we can do it in every state."
Thursday's election for the seat vacated by President Donald Trump's Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has, in recent weeks, attracted national attention and millions of dollars in GOP funding for Quist's opponent Greg Gianforte.
But Quist, with Sanders by his side, largely ignored Trump in his messaging and focused instead on Congressional lawmakers who are trying to ram through a widely unpopular healthcare bill that, as Quist put, "is merely a tax break for the super-rich."
"That's all it is," Quist, who supports a single-payer model, told the crowd in Butte. "In the greatest country on earth, people should not have to declare bankruptcy just because they have a health care issue."
"I call it the un-American healthcare plan," Quist added.
In Billings and Missoula, where the pair drew crowds of more than 1,000 and 4,000 respectively on Saturday, and in Bozeman on Sunday before a crowd of 4,500, Quist and Sanders hammered Gianforte, who has aligned with the president and was recorded telling lobbyists earlier this month that he supported the American Healthcare Plan (AHCA) after telling voters he was undecided.
Breast cancer survivor Katie Mazurek, who introduced Quist in Bozeman, told the crowd the Affordable Care Act (ACA) "protected me and saved my life. Now I have to worry about someone taking that care away...We need you to act as this great state's conscious and cast your ballot for the person who is going to the right thing for Montana and that's Rob Quist."
Indeed, "the stakes may have even gotten higher in the Montana U.S. House," Forbes' Bruce Japsen reported Sunday, as the U.S. House will have to pass whatever version of the bill the Senate produces. House Majority Leader Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) needs every vote he can get, and a Quist win would certainly put a dent in that count.
Sanders, who any day now is expected to unveil a Medicare-for-All bill in the Senate, similarly told the crowd at Montana State University that "Rob and I are going to do everything we can to bury that horrific, disgusting piece of legislation that passed two weeks ago," referring to the AHCA, also known as Trumpcare.
"Rob has a crazy idea," Sanders continued. "He thinks maybe, just maybe, we should have a Congress that works for the working class and not the millionaires...Rob is going to Congress to change the priorities that currently exist." According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, "Sanders said that if Quist is elected, he would help the long-serving senator tackle an agenda that includes overturning Citizens United, instituting a $15 minimum wage, and making public colleges and universities tuition-free."
That message has appeared to resonate with Montana voters who tend to support the person over the party. Speaking with voters in Bozeman, the Daily Chronicle's Lewis Kendall reports:
At the front of the line, Gary McGowan said that the candidates' views on health care were the most important factor in his decision to vote for Quist.
"I'm a one topic guy, and that's the topic," the 39-year-old Bozeman resident said. "In my opinion, it's the biggest thing that affects most families."
"I believe in energy and Bernie Sanders is the icing on the cake in terms of pushing that energy," he added.
Several members of recently formed local political group Gallatin Angelic Troublemakers said that of all the candidates, Quist's views on most issues aligned the closest with their own.
"He's not afraid to stand for progressive causes," said Christina Hayes, 41. "And he's walked the walk. He understands the pain of getting a big medical bill in the mail."
Recently polling has found Quist trailing by single digits, but as the Daily Beast's Gideon Resnick reports: "Montana, as any person in the state would kindly explain, is an interesting electoral experiment. In 2016, the state voted for Trump by a whopping margin of 20 percent but simultaneously elected Democratic governor Steve Bullock who beat none other than Gianforte."
What's more, during the Democratic primary, Sanders trumped his opponent Hillary Clinton 51.6 percent to 44.2 percent.
Resnick posted one illustrative exchange between Quist and a Montana voter on Twitter:
Quist talking to voters is warned "they'll try to corrupt you." He says "I'm ready." pic.twitter.com/xrB26CcYae
— Gideon Resnick (@GideonResnick) May 21, 2017