HELENA – Billings real estate broker Sam Rankin, a vocal critic of the influence of money on politics, said Monday he’s running as an independent for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat up for election this year.
But before voters can have a chance to choose Rankin this November, he first must qualify for the ballot – and that will take the signatures of nearly 17,500 registered Montana voters, on petitions distributed by Rankin or his supporters.
“I’m just throwing this out there and hoping there is some fertile ground (for an independent),” he said in an interview. “If there isn’t, I’ll know in a couple of months.”
Rankin said he thinks voters are frustrated by a Congress beholden to special interests, and that mainstream candidates spend much of their time calling donors to raise money for their campaigns.
“It’s the very problem with Congress: Legally accepted bribery via campaign contributions,” he said. “Therefore I will not take money from political action committees or lobbyists. I will work for Montana voters, not large campaign contributors.”
Rankin is angling for the U.S. Senate seat that had been held by Democrat Max Baucus, who last week became U.S. ambassador to China.
Lt. Gov. John Walsh, the leading Democrat running for the seat, has been appointed as Baucus’ successor and will be sworn in as U.S. senator on Tuesday.
U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., also is running for the seat, as are two other Democrats – Wilsall rancher Dirk Adams and former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger – and two other Republicans: State Rep. Champ Edmunds, of Missoula, and Kalispell air traffic controller David Leaser.
Rankin, 69, has run for office before on a similar theme, most recently in 2012 for Montana’s U.S. House seat, as a Democrat. He lost the primary, coming in fifth in a seven-person field.
Rankin said he decided to run as an independent this time around because a recent poll showed that 42 percent of Americans consider themselves independents, and that his ideas don’t follow a strict party line.
He said he’ll be unveiling proposals for tax reform and reform of Social Security and Medicare, in ways that the major-party candidates don’t want to discuss.
“The voters can then decide which candidate has a plan that moves the country forward and is fair to everyone,” he said.
Rankin has some third-party political involvement in his past, filing in 2000 to run for the U.S. Senate on the Reform Party ticket – he later withdrew – and helping manage independent John Anderson’s 1980 presidential campaign in Montana.
To get on the ballot, Rankin must gather the signatures of 17,417 registered Montana voters by May 27, or one week before the June primary election.
He said he plans to send letters to supporters around the state, to see if he can recruit volunteers to help gather the signatures.