NewsMontana Politics


State representative Smith challenging Gianforte in GOP primary

Tanner Smith
Posted at 9:50 PM, Feb 15, 2024

HELENA — While Gov. Greg Gianforte announced his reelection bid last month, he wasn’t the first Republican to say he was running for governor – and that candidate says he’s serious about the campaign.

State Rep. Tanner Smith, R-Lakeside, owns an excavation company, and he’s in his first term in the Montana House. He says he decided to run for governor a few weeks into the 2023 legislative session because he believed Gianforte hadn’t governed as a true conservative.

“We know what Montana's supposed to look like,” he said. “We need to get back to the Montana that I grew up in. Everybody thrives when we use conservative principles.”

Smith says he particularly objects to the state’s rollout of adult-use marijuana sales, which he believes has gone too fast and could lead to health problems and crime. He also criticized the Gianforte administration for not getting behind efforts to call a special session to cap property taxes.

“We need to get back to using our natural resources and diversify our portfolio where we have more money coming in, not trying to tax and bleed the people for what they have already,” said Smith.

Despite being much less well known across Montana that Gianforte – an incumbent governor who previously represented the entire state in Congress – Smith says he believes he has a chance in the primary.

“Everybody I speak with will vote for me because I'm talking the same language that Montanans are,” he said. “I'm a father of five. I know what it means to be a Montanan. Greg Gianforte has the money, but I have the message. And money can only get you so far.”

Smith reported raising $88,472 for his gubernatorial campaign between April and December 2023, including $70,563 of his own money. Gianforte’s first campaign finance report will not be due until next month. He spent several million dollars of his own money during the 2020 campaign.

Smith said he hasn’t yet chosen a candidate for lieutenant governor, but he wants a running mate with more experience in state government.

Ryan Busse, a former firearms executive from Kalispell, is running for governor as a Democrat. The last day for any candidates to get into the race is March 11.