Montana Democrats have chosen a promising young state legislator to replace John Walsh in a U.S. Senate campaign she has little chance of winning but which party leaders hope can pull disgruntled voters to the polls for other races, including the state’s lone congressional seat.
First-term state Rep. Amanda Curtis, 34, is a high school math teacher in Butte who won the endorsements of Montana’s teachers union for her opposition to charter schools as well as the Montana Sportsmen Alliance before Saturday’s party convention in Helena. Democrats are hoping her outspoken support for labor unions and women’s rights will energize the campaign against U.S. Rep. Steve Daines.
Walsh was widely criticized for a lackluster campaign against Daines before plagiarism allegations led Walsh to step down.
“I would be pretty hard pressed to not accept a nomination,” Curtis said before Saturday’s convention. “Even though it’s scary uncharted territory, it’s an opportunity for us to pull together and electrify the whole state.”
Curtis’s political track record is brief. She was elected in 2012 and was not seeking re-election this year in a redrawn district that would have pitted her against a party ally. She’s built a following largely through active use of social media to get her views out.
Curtis sponsored several bills that didn’t make it through Montana’s Republican-controlled statehouse. Among them was legislation to increase the mandatory percentage of Montana workers hired for state public works projects. Contractors, especially in the energy industry, opposed the measure.
Curtis criticized a 2011 law that banned medical marijuana commercial transactions and that drastically scaled back Montana’s medical marijuana industry. She also tried to rally support for expanded gun background checks in a state that cherishes its gun rights. She has said that a brother playing Russian roulette at a party killed himself when she was 17.
“When someone says the government is going to come and take your guns, that is crazy. That is not going to happen,” she told a rally last year. “We wouldn’t ever let that happen.”
Curtis cites her upbringing in a labor union household in Billings for shaping her political views. It plays well in Butte, a working-class copper mining city.
This year, Curtis was one of four skiers rescued by helicopter after being caught in an avalanche near Butte.
Curtis’ role in the Senate campaign will be to “grin and bear it, because what matters now is getting turnout for the ticket,” said David Parker, a political analyst at Montana State University.
That ticket includes John Lewis, who is up against Republican Ryan Zinke and Libertarian Mike Fellows for the seat Daines is leaving to run for Senate. Democrats also are fielding candidates in each of the 100 state House and 25 state Senate seats up for election. Republicans control both chambers.
The U.S. Senate race also should help promote Curtis’s brand for future elections, Parker said.
“If she comes within 5 points, that would be a big deal,” Parker said.