MISSOULA – Less than 24 hours before President Donald Trump lands at the Missoula International Airport, the people in Montana’s second-largest city appeared unaware of the high-profile political rally aimed at maintaining Republican control of the U.S. Senate.
As the sun set, a fly fisherman cast his line on the placid waters of the Clark Fork River running through town. A paraglider navigated the winds between Mount Jumbo and Mount Sentinel. Downtown, a growing line of 20-somethings waited outside the Wilma Theatre for the Tech N9ne show to start.
It was just another Wednesday in the Garden City.
Not for Erin Erickson, though. As the founder and director of Missoula Rises, a progressive “support group” that formed the day after Trump was elected, Erickson spent Wednesday evening making signs at the weekly “civic action party.”
“All of the signs have a positive, action-oriented tone to them,” Erickson said. One read, “Love Trumps Hate.” Another: “Persist, Resist and Vote.” Still another: “Hate Never Made America Great.”
The signs were all for the big show tomorrow. Not Trump’s rally, but a “community event” planned for the hours before the event in the city’s Playfair Park. Food trucks and music will be on hand, as will a bus ferrying people between the University of Montana and the park. So will many voter education booths.
Erickson, a mother who works full-time as a lawyer, warned not to be confused by the city’s relative calm before the arrival of the Trump storm with its inconvenient security measures, parachuting national media, MAGA-hat wearing supporters and chanting protesters.
“I think people know he’s coming but I don’t think they care,” Erickson said. “They don’t really want him here, but we’re not the type of community to have hateful signs everywhere.”
As Erickson suggests, many people probably do know Trump’s coming to town. It’d be hard to avoid the news, in a state with one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country – the reason for Trump’s visit.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is a Democrat who has represented Montana since his election in 2006, when he defeated Republican incumbent Conrad Burns. Tester won that year by fewer than 3,000 votes in a race where nearly 400,000 were cast.
Six years later, Tester won more handily, by 18,000 votes, but again he’s in what looks like a tight race.
Tester is one of the most vulnerable Democrats this year, in a state Trump won by more than 20 percentage points in 2016.
State Auditor Matt Rosendale, a Republican, has won strong backing from Trump. In an email to supporters Wednesday, Trump said the “future of my entire agenda to Make America Great Again” was at risk if the GOP loses control of the Senate. Defeating Tester would secure that agenda.
Trump’s email praised Rosendale as a “fighter,” and criticized Tester as Senate Minority Leader “Chuck Schumer’s vacation pal.”
Tester drew Trump’s ire beginning in April, when he criticized Trump’s nominee to run the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who was accused of improperly prescribing medication and being drunk on duty.
RealClearPolitics’ average of polls shows Tester leading by 3 percentage points. The Cook Political Report says the race is a toss up.
Not in Missoula, one of the most liberal cities in the state. That Trump’s third visit to the state is this progressive bastion is not surprising to Erickson, with Missoula Rises.
Rosendale and Trump have tried to “manufacture this narrative that there’s this angry liberal mob out there.”
By holding a rally in the heart of blue Montana, Erickson said Trump is trying to prove this point.
“They’re looking for a fight, but the people here are too smart and savvy to fall for that,” she said. “It’s more important to channel the anger, rage and passion we’ve been feeling and translate them into votes.”
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