HELENA (AP) — U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte’s re-election campaign started the year strongly by raising more money in the first three months than the five Democratic contenders for the seat combined, according to newly released campaign finance reports.
The Republican incumbent raised $703,367 from January through March, compared to $608,292 for the Democratic field.
That gives Gianforte, who was elected to the seat last year in a special election, a significant financial advantage against the eventual Democratic nominee, who will have to spend much of the money being raised now to win the June 5 primary election.
“Is it worrisome? Yes,” Jake Brown said, campaign manager for one of the Democratic candidates, Grant Kier. “We’re going to be spending a lot of our resources in the next five to six weeks. We’re keenly aware that Greg Gianforte is going to have $1 million-plus by the time we win the primary.”
Kier, a former land trust director, and Billings attorney John Heenan are leading the Democratic candidates in fundraising, with Kier reporting $217,873 raised for the quarter and Heenan $185,620. About $70,000 of the Heenan campaign’s reported income is from loans or in-kind contributions from the candidate himself.
Brown said those numbers show that the pack is separating and the Democratic primary is turning into a two-candidate race between Kier and Heenan.
Former state legislator Kathleen Williams’ campaign manager, Andrew Markoff, called the idea of a two-candidate horse race “ridiculous.” Williams about doubled her fundraising this quarter to $142,650 compared to the last three months of 2017.
“She’s building momentum,” Markoff said. “She’s going to close this campaign by talking to Montanans where they live.”
Former legislator Lynda Moss and former U.S. government attorney Jared Pettinato reported contributions of $32,401 and $29,748.
The five candidates are vying to be the first Democratic U.S. representative from Montana since Pat Williams in the mid-1990s. They have been appearing in forums across the state and are scheduled for a debate in Helena in early May.
Kier and Heenan have the most cash on hand in the final three months before the primary election. Kier had $432,730 in the bank at the beginning of the month, while Heenan had $385,619.
Gianforte has $946,937 on hand after spending just $114,717 in the first three months of the year.
His spokesman, Travis Hall, declined to comment, saying the numbers speak for themselves.