HELENA — State Democrats Saturday chose state Rep. Amanda Curtis, of Butte, as their new U.S. Senate candidate, putting the largely untested, freshman lawmaker up against Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines just 80 days before the election.
Delegates at a state party nominating convention — called to choose a replacement for U.S. Sen. John Walsh, who resigned from the race Aug. 7 in the wake of a plagiarism scandal — chose Curtis over Wilsall rancher Dirk Adams by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
Curtis, 34, a high school math teacher, has no campaign team in place and virtually no campaign funds, but said she’s ready to upset the conventional wisdom that she’ll lose to Daines in the battle for Montana’s open U.S. Senate seat. Curtis is a graduate of Billings Skyview High School and the University of Montana.
“The national media and the political class has already decided that this race is over,” she said. “But I’ve got a secret: None of those folks get to vote in the state of Montana. …
“If we win here in Montana — outspent, outgunned in a race where we were left for dead — it will send a message to Washington, D.C., that we want change.”
Daines, Montana’s U.S. representative, has been campaigning for the seat since last fall and has raised more than $5 million for his effort. Libertarian Roger Roots, of Livingston, also is in the race.
In a statement Saturday issued after Curtis’ selection, Daines did not mention her by name, saying only that Montanans will have a “clear choice between my positive agenda for more jobs and less government, or more government and fewer jobs.”
Curtis said she’ll be emphasizing the “fundamental difference” between her and Daines — that she’s from the middle class and that Daines, a wealthy former software company executive from Bozeman, represents the “1 percent.”
Curtis, elected as a state representative from Butte in 2012, emerged 10 days ago as a possible candidate to replace Walsh and quickly picked up support from the state’s largest labor union, MEA-MFT, and, later, the state’s organized labor umbrella group, the Montana AFL-CIO.
Her only opponent was Adams, 63, a rancher and attorney who came in third in a three-way U.S. Senate Democratic primary in June.
At Saturday’s nominating convention, Curtis won the votes of 82 delegates to Adams’ 46. State and local Democratic Party officials, who made up the delegates, traveled from across the state to the convention in Helena.
Adams told reporters after the vote that the convention was a “fair and open process” and that he plans to do whatever he can to support Curtis. He also promised it wouldn’t be his last run for elected office in Montana.
In his speech to convention delegates, Adams said Democrats need to talk about new, important issues that will attract independents to the party, such as expanding Internet access across Montana and developing widespread child care programs for children up to age four.
“I’m not going to talk about issues that have not moved the needle,” he said, noting that Walsh spent $2.7 million “checking the Washington, D.C., list” of Democratic issues and hadn’t put a dent in Daines’ lead in the polls.
The convention drew 128 delegates, at least 100 more observers and a horde of media, including a reporter and photographer from the New York Times, which first reported on July 23 that Walsh had plagiarized his master’s degree final paper at the U.S. Army War College in 2007.
Walsh, who was appointed as U.S. senator Feb. 7 to succeed Baucus, decided two weeks later to withdraw as a candidate, saying the plagiarism charges had become a “distraction” that would make it difficult for him to win.
Walsh, Montana’s former lieutenant governor, decided last fall to run for the Baucus seat and later was appointed by Bullock, a Democrat, to fill out the rest of Baucus’ term.
Baucus first announced in April 2013 that he would not run for re-election this year, putting the Montana seat in play as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
Curtis faces an uphill battle against Daines, but her supporters Saturday said she can energize young and female voters and paint a sharp contrast between her background and Daines’ history.
“He seems like a nice guy with a wonderful family, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand what life is like for the rest of us,” she said of Daines. “For the next three months, we’re going to cross this state. … We’re going to share our vision, about an economy that works for all of us — not just the richest Americans.”
Montana has never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate. It has sent one woman to the U.S. House, Jeannette Rankin, who was the first woman elected to Congress in 1916. She was elected again in 1940.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.