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Don’t Read Too Much into Rob Quist’s Loss

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GREAT FALLS, MT - MAY 22: Democratic U.S. Congressional candidate Rob Quist looks on during a gathering with supporters at Darkhorse Hall and Wine Snug on May 22, 2017 in Great Falls, Montana. Rob Quist is campaigning throughout Montana ahead of a May 25 special election to fill Montana's single congressional seat. Quist is in a tight race against republican Greg Gianforte. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Last night, Berniecrat Rob Quist predictably lost his race to Republican Greg Gianforte, former 2016 gubernatorial candidate who assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of the election.

While few expected a Democrat to pull off a win in Montana’s at-large Congressional District, which has not gone blue since 1994, that hasn’t stopped both progressives and neoliberal Democrats from drawing their own conclusions about the significance of Quist’s loss.

Despite the loss, Quist narrowed the margin for defeat in Montana by 15 points: Trump had won by 21 points; Quist lost by six (also, over half of the voting was done by early ballot-before the body slam heard round the world).

He decidedly outperformed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in virtually every county in the district, even flipping several that had gone overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, Quist also outperformed his predecessor, Denise Juneau, taking several counties she’d lost.

Some of that success is likely attributable to anti-Trump sentiment—the President’s approval rating has plummeted in recent weeks amid speculation over the Russia investigation and his firing of former FBI Director James Comey—and the news of Gianforte’s violent outburst.

Indeed, these are the aspects to the race establishment Democrats will inevitably emphasize as they try to take a shot a Bernie Sanders, who is currently the most popular politician in America. These partisans will point out that Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, a centrist, outperformed Quist and defeated Gianforte in 2016.

On the flip side, progressives will correctly counter that Quist was a first-time candidate who began with little name recognition running against someone who’d just barely lost the gubernatorial race a few months prior.

And though he was unable to make up the name-recognition gap in the short time he had, they’ll also correctly say he was able to perform well with little help from the national Democratic Party, which only began investing in the state recently.

The DNC has been focusing on Georgia’s 6th District congressional race between centrist golden boy Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, rather than Quist’s race.

Meanwhile, Gianforte was flush with cash from Republicans and outside groups. Beyond that, Quist was also a somewhat flawed candidate, having a history of personal troubles with taxes and debt.

But there is more to the puzzle. Special elections are “weird” as David Daley, former editor-in-chief of Salon and author of “Ratf**cked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy,” put it in our interview last month. They are not the best indicator of public sentiment as they are generally associated with low turnout like we saw in the Quist/Gianforte race.

The one thing that can be gleaned from this race is that partisanship still very much plays a role in people’s voting patterns. If progressives and Democrats in general, want to change America, perhaps a new strategy is required in light of the Republican Party’s hold on Congress and the state legislatures.

In the meantime, both sides of the Democratic divide would do well not to read too far into these races, and instead gear up for 2018.

For full interview with Mr. Daley, see video below: