HELENA — The crowded Democratic field for Montana’s open U.S. House seat grew by another candidate Monday, as Melinda Gopher of Missoula said she is running again for Congress.
Gopher’s announcement raises to seven the number of Democrats running. Just one Republican has announced.
“I think the fact that ordinary people are coming forward to run is a good thing,” Gopher said Monday. “We come into this certainly being the most identifiable candidate.”
Her message connected with voters in 2010, she said, despite raising “a very scant amount of resources.” Gopher said she had name identification in 2010 because of her family’s past work in Montana.
Another 2010 House candidate, Sam Rankin of Billings, said he is testing the waters before deciding whether to jump into the race as a Democrat.
“I think that number (of candidates) indicates just the frustration the American public has with Congress and politics in general,” Rankin said. “The extremism brought on by the way we finance our political campaigns, I believe, is ruining our country.”
Both Gopher, a writer, and Rankin, a real estate salesman, lost to Democratic nominee Dennis McDonald in the four-way House primary June 2010. Gopher placed third in the primary with 21 percent of the vote. Rankin was last with 16 percent.
McDonald was easily defeated in the general election by Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is running this year for the U.S. Senate, challenging Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester.
Gopher said on her blog she considered running against Tester, who she believes has done “a lackluster job.” But she said she ultimately decided against challenging Tester because it would be “too damaging and ultimately would position Rep. Rehberg to overtake him.”
While she has received much encouragement to run in either race, Gopher said the strongest support came for her to run for the open House seat being vacated by Rehberg.
“In the peace tradition of the Anishinabe (Ojibwe), I am the best candidate to represent Montana in the U.S. House,” said Gopher, who is American Indian. “I believe American politics has become a sleaze-fest for the rich and powerful.”
Gopher said she would work to dismantle the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that equates money and free speech and allows corporations to give to political campaigns without previous restrictions.
She said she will work to strengthen environmental laws and would oppose the Keystone XL pipeline in any future applications.
Gopher also said she would attempt to reverse the federal law that delisted wolves from being a protected species.
“I will work to restore this nation’s economy and one where our returning veterans play a vital role in this American restoration,” said Gopher, whose husband, Brock Conway, is a disabled combat veteran.
Rankin, meanwhile, said he is talking with people to see if he has more support for the House than he did two years ago.
Rankin, a former chairman and board member of Montana Common Cause, has long been a critic of how campaigns are funded.
“I still think my message is appropriate,” he said. “Excessive money is ruining our country. We see it mostly in Congress. I don’t think any American believes any politician anymore who says their campaign donations don’t affect my vote.”
Other Democrats running for the House are state Rep. Kim Gillan, a workforce development specialist at Montana State University Billings; businesswoman Diane Smith of Whitefish; Dave Strohmaier, a Missoula City Council member and professional historian; attorney Rob Stutz of Helena; contractor and farmer Jason Ward of Hardin, and state Rep. Franke Wilmer, a political science professor at Montana State University.
The lone Republican is Steve Daines, an executive with RightNow Technologies in Bozeman.