It took four ballots at a special convention, but Montana Democrats Sunday finally picked musician and songwriter Rob Quist as their nominee to run for the state's vacant U.S. House seat in a special election May 25.
Quist, 69, outpolled state Rep. Amanda Curtis of Butte on the final ballot, 90-69, after three ballots had narrowed the field from eight candidates to two at the nominating convention at the Great Northern Hotel in Helena.
Montana Republicans will meet at the same hotel on Monday to nominate their candidate for the unusual race, with an election just 80 days away.
Quist, known as a founding member of the Mission Mountain Wood Band and his own band, Great Northern, said he's hoping to connect with Montana voters the same way he's connected with them through his music for the last 40 years.
"Who better than a musician for a campaign like this," he told reporters after the convention. "This is something I’ve been doing all my life. ...
"I've really feel like I've connected with Montanans in such a way that it's not going to be such an uphill climb."
Quist has never run for public office before, but has been barnstorming the state in recent weeks, encouraging local Democrats to form central committees in counties without one, and them urging those new members to come to the convention to support him.
Quist may be facing off against Republican Greg Gianforte, the Bozeman businessman who lost the governor's race last year to Democratic incumbent Steve Bullock but who says he has already raised $1 million for the special U.S. House campaign. Gianforte began running his first TV ad on Friday.
However, he first must best at least six other Republican candidates at the party's nominating convention on Monday.
Quist said he doesn't feel like the underdog, because of his longtime connection to Montanans: "They recognize that I'm someone who stood up for Montana values all my life."
Yet Quist somewhat deflected a question about how he can win as a Democrat in a state that favored presidential candidate Donald Trump by 20 points -- and with Republicans already framing the race as whether Montanans want to pick someone who supports the president's agenda or not.
He said he has "a lot of common ground" with Montanans, and that they agree on about "80 percent of the issues."
"And I have to say that I’ve already spoken with Republican men’s groups and coffee groups, and I feel like I have their support," he said. "So this is something that I’m not too concerned about."
The winner of the May 25 election will succeed Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, who resigned his seat last week after being confirmed as Trump's secretary of the Interior. Zinke won re-election easily last November to a second term.
Eight Democrats were nominated initially to compete at the convention Sunday morning, but no one managed to win the required majority of the 160 delegates until the fourth ballot, at about 3:45 p.m.
Quist, Curtis and state Rep. Kelly McCarthy of Billings consistently commanded the most votes in every ballot and Quist was the top vote-getter in each one. He fell about a half-dozen short of the majority on the third ballot, when McCarthy was eliminated, and then beat Curtis on the final ballot.
The delegates were local Democratic central committee members, some party officials and officeholders and members of several affiliated party groups, such as the Young Democrats.