The reason was simple: A poll was released, one showing that Kathleen Williams is leading Gianforte by 6 points.
Now, there’s gonna be a lot of people that dig into this poll, perhaps mentioning that just 469 people were questioned, and that age and education levels might not correspond to Montana’s population at-large.
I don’t really give a hoot.
It’s early. We’ve still got a lot of spending and a lot of stupid campaign ads and junk mailers and inbox spam to go.
Lots could change, and in an election that typically sees anywhere from 507,000 people vote (the 2016 General) all the way to 331,000 (the 2002 General), we know that the opinion of a few hundred doesn’t mean much.
But it gives Democrats hope…and Republicans a bit of concern.
For Democrats, it’s all about winning this seat back after more than two decades. For Republicans, it’s all about making sure Gianforte isn’t another in a long line of congressional ‘one-termers’ from Montana.
The last time we had a one-termer was just a few years ago, when Steve Daines was in. He took a common tactic that many one-termers take – he made the jump to the Senate.
Before that, our last one-termer was beyond most people’s memory. It was Orvin Fjare, who couldn’t win a second term in 1956.
Let’s spend some time today looking at one-termers like Fjare, and why they couldn’t get reelected.
Here are the reasons why:
- One lost because he helped create Yellowstone National Park
- Two decided not to run again
- One saw her anti-war votes do her in
- Three lost in a mid-term wave that saw the other party take Congress
- One ran afoul of a more-influential member of his party
- One was primaried
- One lost due to unpopular policies of the President, a member of their own party
- And just one made the jump to the Senate
There are eleven of these folks in total.
I’m not counting John Evans, who had one term starting 1919, then came back for five more terms starting 1923.
I am counting Rankin, however, as her terms were further apart, though I’m not counting Zinke.
Yep, this’ll be a long post. Let’s get started already.
William Clagett (1871-73)
William Horace Clagett was born in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, on September 21, 1838. By 1850 he’d moved to Iowa with his father and eventually began studying law there before attending a law school in Albany, New York.
He passed the bar in 1858 and returned to Iowa to practice, then headed west to Nevada in 1861. He became a member of the Nevada Territorial House of Representatives in 1862 and then the Nevada Assembly in 1864.
By the mid-1860s he headed up to Montana Territory and once again practiced law. He was popular enough that the people chose him to represent them in Washington, and he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1870.
It was while serving in the House that Clagett probably did the most for Montana. On December 18, 1871, Clagett introduced the Act of Dedication bill, which led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park.
The park wasn’t very popular in Montana at the time, however, and that would prove to be Clagett's downfall in the next election. Clagett lost his reelection bid to Martin Maginnis in 1872.
Clagett headed back to Montana but suffered some serious wanderlust and practiced law in most of the western states. In 1889 he was president of the Idaho Constitutional Convention and tried to get elected to the U.S. Senate from Idaho in both 1891 and 1895, but failed each time.
He finally settled down in Spokane and worked at the law until his death on August 3, 1901. He was 62 years old.
Tom Carter (1889-91)
Carter was a product of the Clark-Daly feud, and the late-1880s were eerily-similar to today's political climate.
Clark’s opponent in the 1888 race would be Republican Thomas H. Carter. Carter really had no hopes, not against Clark.
Carter was known by few, “spindly and rather awkward looking with his bizarre chin whiskers,” and had few traits to talk up besides his Irish heritage. But when it came to finding support in Montana, Irish heritage was a good thing, and it was all the excuse Daly needed to support him against Clark in the 1888 election.
Thomas H. Carter was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, on October 30, 1854. His family later moved to Illinois and Carter did all kinds of jobs – farming, teaching, and working on the railroads. He also studied law and eventually became a lawyer.
In 1882 he moved from Iowa to Helena and set up his law practice. He proved capable enough in the courtroom, but the question was how he’d do getting votes when Marcus Daly decided to ‘stake-horse’ him during the 1888 election that William Clark was running in.
During the campaign Clark followed the platform of President Grover Cleveland, using the Democratic rallying cry of lower tariffs.
Candidate Benjamin Harrison was running for president on the Republican ticket, and his son was actually working on a ranch outside Helena at the time.
Carter followed up Harrison’s rhetoric, calling for higher tariffs, something that would help out the cattlemen of the territory, the same cattlemen that were also crying out against the Interior Department taking over so much land.
It was clear the only way Daly could beat Clark is if he went against his own political ideologies: he’d support a Republican even though he was a Democrat and had been for years.
Still, Daly wasn’t the only one that didn’t want to see Clark go to Washington. There were many business interests that stood to suffer over the tariff issue, and most came from the timber industry.
So in that regard Daly would benefit by not by having Democrat Cleveland in the White House, but Republican Harrison. And he and others in the territory believed that a Republican delegate to congress would be better able to deal with that president. So that meant Clark was out and Carter was in.
Daly made sure his workers voted the right way, Republican. It meant such usually Democratic strongholds as Butte and Missoula went for Carter. All in all Carter would get 22,486 votes to Clark’s 17,360 as well as fourteen of the sixteen territorial counties.
Carter had beat Clark by more than 5,000 votes, and that in a territory well-known for its Democratic-leanings going back to the 1860s. It was a clear rebuke if there ever was one, and perhaps should have shown Clark that he might do better where his dominant business interests were now located, primarily in Nevada. But he stayed in Montana and the state would become poorer for it in the minds of the nation.
Thomas H. Carter’s term began the following March but was cut short when Montana was finally granted statehood on November 7, 1889. He never was able to get rid of the problems the Montana Improvement Company faced with timber lawsuits, but he did prove an effective representative, one able to get a deal done.
It helped that he had the trust of President Harrison, who even made him is campaign manager in 1892. He survived by siding with the rich and powerful interests in both Montana and Washington, and they served him well.
He was immediately elected as the state’s first representative in 1889 and served a complete term, but was not reelected. The reasons were simple:
- It was a mid-term in the middle of Benjamin Harrison’s first term, and Carter was of the same party, the GOP.
- The economy was in stagnation, as the Panic of 1890 was starting up just as the election took place.
- People were still angry about the steep, 50% tariffs that President McKinley had instituted in 1890, and how these favored large industries over consumers.
- People were upset with the “Billion Dollar Congress,” one that was spending lavishly, something Democrats promised to rein-in.
It just wasn’t a Republican year. Daly’s support for Carter dried up and the Democratic strongholds once again went for a Democrat. But it was close – Carter lost by just 238 votes in 1890.
So it was that on March 3, 1891, Carter’s service to Montana was done…but not to the nation.
He became Commissioner of the General Land Office for a year – the same post so many in Montana had been angry over – and then was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, the first catholic to hold that position.
For Montana the election of 1888 meant that the “Big Four” that’d so guided the state, allowed it to work together during constitutional conventions, and kept the ship afloat, was now finished.
Clark blamed everyone but himself for the defeat – most of all Daly.
The Clark-Daly feud had begun, although some claim it went back to an issue over water rights in Warm Springs Creek in 1883, or even that rejected loan for the Alice Mine in 1876 that Daly had sought.
Probably the most logical reason, beside Daly not liking Clark, was that Daly needed a Republican representing Montana, not a Democrat. Montana would pay the price locally and nationally because of it.
Thomas Carter wasn’t finished with Montana politics, not by a long shot. His years of service had made an impression on the people back in Montana, so much so that they elected him to the US Senate in 1894.
He’d serve a complete term, from 1895 to 1901, at which point he was reelected for another, which ended on March 3, 1911. He chose not to run again, probably due to his health. He died just six months later in Washington, on September 17. He was 56 years old.
William Dixon (1891-93)
William Wirt Dixon was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 3, 1838. His family moved to Illinois in 1843 and then to Iowa six years later. It was there that Dixon got interested in the law, and he passed the bar exam in 1858.
At that point he started moving around a lot. First it was Tennessee and Arkansas, both in 1860. He headed to California in 1862 and then to Nevada. By 1866 he’d made it to Montana, first settling in Helena and then Deer Lodge.
He was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in both 1871 and 1872 and then took off for the Black Hills of South Dakota for a bit, coming back to Montana in 1881. He chose Butte this time and opened up a law practice, even serving in the state constitutional conventions of 1884 and 1889.
By 1890 voters were tired of Republican Representative Thomas Carter and chose Democrat William Dixon instead, even over the more experienced Martin Maginnis, who’d held the seat for thirteen years in the 1870s and 1880s.
Dixon served a full two-year term, tried to get reelected, but 1892 wasn’t his year, as Democrats regained what they'd lost the previous cycle. He then came back to Butte to practice law once again. He eventually went back to California, where he died on November 13, 1910. He was 72 years old.
Al Campbell (1899-1901)
This guy was born in Michigan in 1857, became a lawyer in 1881, and moved to Butte in 1889. He started a law practice and two years later got elected to the state legislature. Two years after that he was sent to Congress on the Democratic ticket, but decided not to run again in 1900.
Campbell kept practicing law in Butte, though a little over six years after leaving Congress he died in New York, and just 49-years-old.
Caldwell Edwards (1901-03)
This is an interesting chap, as he got elected on the Populist ticket.
Edwards was born in Sag Harbor, New York, on January 8, 1841. His education extended as far as the public schools, and whatever else he was able to pick up working as a salesman and bookkeeper in the state. By his early-20s he was ready for a change and moved to Bozeman in 1864 to become a farmer and rancher.
Edwards got in because Montana overwhelmingly favored Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan in the 1900 Election. Many Bryan-Democrats voted for Populist Edwards.
Bryan lost to McKinley, in large part because the economy was improving after the short Spanish-American War. The Populists had peaked following the Panic of 1893, and were now on the decline.
Edwards’ tenure in Congress was entirely uneventful, and it’s likely the Democrats and Republicans did their best to ensure the men couldn’t point to any legislative achievements come the next election.
The Populist message was easily identifiable to many, with an emphasis on workers, safety, women’s equality, and a fair day’s work. Their ideas infected Montana, and all candidates for some time afterward would have to bend a little toward those ideals, but just a little, and just for a little while.
Caldwell Edwards chose not to run again and headed back to his ranch in Bozeman. He’d been elected to the Montana House of Representatives in the same election that’d sent him to Washington, and he resumed his position, winning again in 1903 and serving until 1905.
At some point he returned to his boyhood home of Sag Harbor in New York, which is where he died on July 23, 1922. He was 81 years old.
Jeanette Rankin (1917-19)
Was Rankin a one-termer or not? After all, she did do one term…but then came back 20 years later and did one more.
We’ve discussed this woman a lot on this site (you can use the search bar at the top of the site to see previous articles) so let’s just focus on the reasons she lost, alright?
Suffice it to say, her vote against America entering WWI was the death-knell for her 1918 reelection efforts.
Those efforts were interesting, as she tried to jump to the Senate but failed. Besides the war, the reasons were many:
- District lines had been redrawn and she was now facing a stiffer Democratic challenge (remember, this progressive woman was a Republican).
- The Speculator Mine disaster in Butte in June of 1917 had drummed up support for the Socialists in the state, while also increasing calls to suppress them.
- She was running against Tom Walsh, who’d already had a successful first term in the Senate and had wide support across the state.
Rankin lost big time, coming in a distant third in the race. But she’d be back 20 years later…and gone just as quick as the first time, and for the same reasons.
When the time had come to vote for America’s entry into WWII in December 1941, there were no voices against…except for Montana’s lone female representative.
“Killing more people won’t help matters,” Rankin said when explaining why she planned to vote against Congress’s declaration of war on December 8. When other members found out what Jeanette Rankin planned to do they urged her to change her mind.
“As a woman I can't go to war,” she said, “and I refuse to send anyone else.” When she went through with it and cast the only vote against America entering WWII, the recriminations were immediate. Rankin was booed and hissed from the gallery and followed by an angry mob afterward. It was only by hiding in a telephone booth that she was able to escape them.
Rankin’s brother Wellington telegraphed her after the vote, saying Montanans were “110 percent against you.” Many were labeling Jeanette Rankin as “the most hated person in Montana history.”
Rankin was “all but ignored by her colleagues” in the House after that. By the time the 1942 election came around she decided to not run at all. She finished out her term, serving until January 3, 1943.
At that point she retired from politics for good. She eventually settled in Carmel, California, where she died on May 18, 1973. She was 92 years old.
Washington McCormick (1921-23)
Washington Jay McCormick, Jr. was born in Missoula on January 4, 1884. He first attended the University of Montana and then transferred to the University of Notre Dame before finally settling on Harvard, where he graduated in 1906. After that it was the study of the law, which he began at Columbia University. He finished up in 1910, passing the bar in New York and then in Montana the following year.
McCormick’s father was a prominent citizen in Missoula so it was easy for his younger namesake to gain attention and favor with citizens and politicians alike.
In 1918 he was elected to the Montana House of Representatives and then in 1920 jumped into the U.S. House race, getting 39,729 votes against Burton Watson’s 29,688 votes. Carl W. Riddick ran for the new 2nd District seat and won in a landslide. That meant McCormick and Riddick were heading to Washington as the new decade’s representatives.
The 1922 Election wasn’t kind to McCormick, however, mainly because of what was happening on the national stage. It was a mid-term, and Republicans lost 77 seats that year as the party splintered between competing progressive and conservative views. The Warren G. Harding wave of 1920 that had brought so many Republicans into Congress in typically-Democratic areas had fizzled.
McCormick’s career in Washington was done and he headed back to Missoula to practice law, where he died on March 7, 1949. He was 65 years old.
Jerry O’Connell (1937-39)
Jerry Joseph O’Connell was born in Butte on June 14, 1909. His father died in 1917 from silicosis, a common ailment of miners there. O’Connell claimed his dad had been shot in the mining strikes of 1914 and that had exacerbated the condition.
Like Joseph Monaghan before him, O’Connell attended public and parochial school before heading to Helena’s Carroll College. He graduated in 1931, though got elected beforehand in 1930 to the Montana House of Representatives. After that he headed to Georgetown University.
While studying law at Georgetown, O’Connell worked for Senator Walsh for a time. He decided to run for a higher office in 1932, going for the PSC, and railed against the “power trust.”
Montana Power Company “rolled out its big guns in a futile effort to defeat him,” that year. In Butte the company “was alleged to have threatened employees with a loss of jobs and threatened stockholders with a loss of dividends if O’Connell was elected.”
But O’Connell was elected, and he put in two years with the PSC until Monaghan announced he’d be challenging James Murray for the Senate seat. The nomination for the first congressional seat was wide open, O’Connell ran, and won the 5-way primary and then the general that November.
He settled into his first term and looked forward to his second. Interestingly, O’Connell’s downfall actually came about because of fellow Democrat, FDR.
FDR was furious at the opposition that Montana’s Senator Wheeler had shown to his court packing plan, for he viewed these setbacks in the economy as the Supreme Court’s fault. Packing the court would have prevented that, he thought, and it’d been Wheeler who ushered in the bill’s defeat.
FDR not only snubbed Wheeler on his visit to Fort Peck Dam in 1937 by not inviting him to the spectacle, he openly advocated that up-and-coming Democrats in Montana challenge the senior senator. One who heard those calls was O’Connell.
“The chasm between liberal and conservative Democrats steadily widened,” after the Wheeler-split, historian Michael Malone tells us, and makes it clear this occurred during the 1938 election when FDR threw his support behind the suspected primary challenger to Walsh, coming up two years later, who was O’Connell. During those elections, FDR openly came out against many Democrats in the primaries, something the press and his opponents labeled “the purge.”
When O’Connell made it clear in 1938 that he was going to heed FDR’s words to “fight like hell to defeat Senator Wheeler’s machine so he wouldn’t be back in 1940,” Wheeler took action. He hadn’t gotten to where he was, and hadn’t stayed there that long, by not reacting to threats.
Knowing he could only count on what support he could garner in the Senate and within the state, Wheeler consolidated his conservative base within the Montana Democratic Party to see that O’Connell was beaten in his 1938 attempt to win back his U.S. House Seat.
Wheeler was starting to look like the kind of candidate that would do anything to stay in office. That included supporting a rabidly anti-Semitic Republican candidate against O’Connell in his U.S. House reelection bid that year. That man’s name was Jacob Thorkelson, who ultimately won.
O’Connell ran a few more times, his last race coming in 1940.
Jerry O’Connell’s final chapter in Montana politics had been written. Speaking of O’Connell’s loss in 1938, historian John Bell sums up why O’Connell may have run into so many problems, and why such a promising Montana political career was cut short:
“The key to O’Connell’s staggering defeat in 1938 is to be found in the political make-up of the “boy wonder” of Montana politics. O’Connell was not simply a typical New Deal liberal. More than that, it appears that O’Connell was a genuine, class-conscious radical, a true ideologue of the Left who was unwilling to compromise with what he viewed as intractable and dangerous opponents.”
One of the main reasons O’Connell was so uncompromising was because of the environment he’d been brought up in, radical Butte. His father had participated in one of the biggest strikes, and been shot for it. Bell tells us what this means:
“Had the Anaconda Company practiced effective welfare capitalism rather than simply exploiting its workers to the utmost, it is possible that O’Connell would have developed into a traditional liberal, rather than a class-conscious radical ideologue of the Left.”
In 1944 O’Connell closed up the law practice and moved west to Seattle. He became the executive secretary of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee that same year, a position he’d hold until 1947. At that point he took some time off before he switched to the Washington State Progressive Party in 1948.
Perhaps Montana was pulling at his heartstrings, however, for he only lasted in that position until 1949, and then headed back to the Treasure State in 1950.
“O’Connell had moved up the political ladder too fast,” Bell tells us, and the state lost out. Jerry O’Connell settled in Great Falls, which is where he died on January 16, 1956. He was just 46 years old.
Jacob Thorkelson (1939-41)
Jacob Thorkelson was born on September 24, 1876, in the coastal town of Egersund, which was located in the country of Norway. He made his way to America in 1892 at the age of 16, working as a navigator.
Thorkelson didn’t stay in the country when he arrived, but got work commanding sailing ships out of Philadelphia. He travelled the world and the seven seas and even joined the Virginia Naval Reserve from 1897 to 1899.
By 1901 he was finally granted citizenship and in 1907 he got it into his head that a change of career was in order. He enrolled in the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Baltimore, Maryland and graduated in 1911. He then turned right around to teach anatomy at the university as an associate professor. In 1913 he became the chair of the department.
Eventually Thorkelson made his way to Montana, getting a job at Warm Springs. He also got into politics, and ran against Jerry O’Connell in 1938. Democratic Senator Burton Wheeler was probably more help to Thorkelson than his own Republican Party.
Wheeler’s forces didn’t manage to defeat O’Connell during the 1938 primary, but they “worked behind the scenes” to do him in during the general, supporting his opponent.
O’Connell called Wheeler a “Benedict Arnold to his Party and a traitor to his President.”
“The general election campaign was hard-hitting,” historian John Bell writes. “O’Connell questioned the validity of his opponent’s naturalization papers, and Thorkelson replied by accusing O’Connell of being a communist.”
That year in the general Thorkelson won, 54% to 46%, likely with a great deal of conservative Democrat support. It would be just another example in a long line to come that showed Wheeler moving further and further to the right, and further and further into the position of someone that will do anything to stay in office.
The fact that raging anti-Semite Jacob Thorkelson was elected in his place didn’t seem to concern him – staying in power at all costs did. If that meant a too-far-left up-and-comer was brought down, so be it. And is it any surprise?
After the split over court packing and all the heated words in 1937-8, the “left wing of the Democratic party rose up in open rebellion,” historian Michael Malone writes.
The Montana Council for Progressive Political Action was created in 1938 and it meant business. Full of American Federation of Labor members, people from the Congress of Industrial Organizations, farmers from the Farmers Union, and more unemployed than they’d probably care to admit, the Council had a growing level of influence and a high level of frustration.
By 1939 – the year they started up the People’s Voice, a reform newspaper that would run for three decades – the Council for Progressive Political Action was ready to do battle, ensuring its voice was heard. If that meant Democrats suffered in the face of third-party candidates, so be it. “Once again, as on the eve of World War I,” Malone writes, “there was thunder on the left in Montana.”
All of this spelled Thorkelson’s downfall, and he lost to the more progressive Republican in the 1940 primary, Jeanette Rankin.
Thorkelson came back in 1942, this time in an attempt to wrest the U.S Senate seat from Murray. He got obliterated in the primary by Jeannette Rankin’s brother Wellington, and came in third overall with just 19% of the vote. He ran for governor in 1944, getting just 12%.
Thorkelson sounds like quite the amazing man, and he was. He was also a raging fascist and vehement anti-Semite. He hated poor people and he hated Jews. This was well-known, and it was documented at the time.
Whether Jacob Thorkelson would have run again is unknown. He lived for another year, dying in Butte on November 20, 1945. He was 69 years old.
Orvin Fjare (1955-57)
The off-year election of 1954 was an historic year for the nation, one that saw Congress flip. Montana could claim no part in this switch, however, for its party make-up did not change. The names holding those offices did though, and one of the new ones was Orvin Fjare.
Orvin Benonie Fjare was born in Big Timber on April 16, 1918. While growing up he worked at a clerk in a clothing store and eventually became a partial owner of the place.
When the war came he enlisted and became a second lieutenant of artillery in 1942. His time was spent in the Pacific as a pilot, and he achieved the rank of captain by the time he was discharged in 1946.
Fjare headed back to Montana at that point and got interested in politics. By 1951 he was serving on the board of the Big Timber Public Schools and in 1952 he was on the Montana Public Welfare Commission. All of that was enough in his mind to make a go at the state’s second congressional seat in 1954.
It was an open seat that year, as Republican Wesley D’Ewart was trying to make the jump to the U.S. Senate. The Republican primary had four men that year but Fjare whipped them all, getting 44% to his closest competitor’s 31%. That November Fjare squeezed out a win, 50.6% to 49.3%, a difference of 1,608 votes.
Fjare’s time in Washington was largely uneventful, and the state’s growing conservatism that year did more to get him elected than anything. By 1956 things were different, though Fjare’s opponent wasn’t. Once again it was Democrat LeRoy Anderson, and this time the percentages flipped. Anderson took 50.9% to Fjare’s 49.1%, a difference of 2,641 votes.
A large part of the loss in 1956 can be attributed to “an unpopular Eisenhower farm policy and the delay in beginning Yellowtail dam attributed to Ike’s administration,” historian Clark Spence writes in Montana: A Bicentennial History.
Orvin Fjare’s short time in Washington was done, as was his time in Montana politics, though he did serve a bit of 1959 in the Montana House.
In 1960 he made a bid for the state’s second U.S. Senate seat along with five other men, and prevailed against them in the primary, taking 38% to his nearest competitor’s 27%. Still, Democrats had Lee Metcalf trying to make the switch from the House to Senate that year and he prevailed, winning against Fjare 50.7% to 49.3%, a difference of 4,050 votes.
At least with Fjare running, you knew the race would be close. It would prove the Big Timber native’s last political contest – he headed to the Montana State Highway Department to work as director of advertising until 1969 and then oversaw the Montana Federal Housing Administration after President Nixon appointed him, a position he’d hold until 1979.
Fjare returned to Big Timber, where he died on June 27, 2011. He was 93 years old.
Steve Daines (2013-15)
Steven David Daines was born in Van Nuys, California, on August 20, 1962. The family moved to Bozeman two years later. He graduated from Montana State University in 1984 with a BS in Chemical Engineering. That same year he attended the Republican National Convention as one of the shindig’s youngest delegates.
Following university, Daines went to work for Procter & Gamble, a job that would last 13 years, including six in China. During that time, Daines outsourced American jobs to the Asian country.
In 1997, Daines left Procter & Gamble and went to work for RightNow Technologies. In 2000 he met the company’s founder, Greg Gianforte, and his career with the company took off. He still found time to run on the gubernatorial ticket with Roy Brown in 2008, ultimately losing to Schweitzer/Bohlinger 65% to 33%.
Two years later, Daines was back, this time running for the U.S. Senate seat that Jon Tester had won six years earlier. His plans were thwarted when then-current U.S. Rep Denny Rehberg announced he’d be running against Tester. Daines then switched over to run for the seat Rehberg was vacating.
In 2012 Daines left RightNow to campaign full-time for the House seat, and won the 3-way primary with 71% and then the general with 53%.
He did not seek reelection in 2014 as he tried to make the jump to the Senate, and succeeded.
Well, that’s it. I hope you learned something.