The other Montana Democrat to watch in 2024

You could think of Montana as a completely red state. Republicans have won every presidential election there since 1996 Donald Trump In 2020 it rose by 16 percentage points. The state legislature is governed by a GOP supermajority and is the only Democrat elected statewide Senator Jon Testerwho faces a challenging re-election this year.

Nonetheless, Democrat Monica Tranel is hoping she can flip Montana's 1st Congressional District, a purple seat currently held by Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke. The district is relatively new, created after the 2020 census due to Montana's population growth (the new district increased the state's congressional seats to a whopping two). Tranel was just a stone's throw away from a win over Zinke in her first match of 2022 when she lost by about three percentage points.

Given this outperformance in a district that supported Trump by more than six percentage points in 2020, the rematch has won the support of the national party. In January, Tranel was added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's “red-to-blue” list of priority candidates who could flip Republican-held seats.

External observers still see it as a likely victory for Zinke. Inside Elections and Sabato's Crystal Ball rate him as a “lean Republican,” while the Cook Political Report calls the seat “likely Republican.” One of the biggest challenges in reaching voters outside of the county's more progressive enclaves like Missoula is countering the increasing polarization in politics.

Tranel told me that Zinke's strategy was to “nationalize the race and make me something I'm not, and then run against that person.” She recalled a recent meeting with members of a local union – once reliable ones Democratic voters – who were skeptical of her and her party. They repeated talking points Tranel recognized from national right-wing media outlets, saying that Democrats and President Joe Biden “Always lie.”

“I said, ‘Look, I’m not running for president. I am running to represent you in this congressional seat. This is what I want to do,” Tranel said when we met at a cafe in Missoula last week.

In fact, Tranel's race could be influenced by other candidates and issues on the ballot: This year, Biden and Trump will be at the top of the list, as will Tester. A state initiative to enshrine the right to abortion up to around the 24th week of pregnancy is also likely to be on the ballot in November. It is still unclear how these other lines on the ballot will affect voter turnout and the outcome on Election Day.

Zinke surpasses Tranel in fundraising; At the end of March, he had $2.3 million in his campaign coffers, while Tranel had $1.3 million in cash on hand. Al Olszewski, the chairman of the Flathead County Republicans who ran against Zinke in the 2022 GOP primary, said Tranel might have an even more challenging race this year. That seat was vacant in 2022, but now Zinke is the incumbent and has a seat on the powerful House Budget Committee.

“If you're going up against a giant, how are you going to kill the giant?” asked Olszewski.

Tranel believes she needs to win over a portion of the electorate – rural voters – who, like the skeptical union members she met, have begun to turn away from Democrats in recent years. Nationally, Republicans have a significant advantage over Democrats with rural voters: 61 percent of registered voters in rural counties are Republican, according to Pew Research. Still, Tranel in 2022 improved Biden's 2020 performance in some of the 1st Congressional District's more sparsely populated counties.

“Democrats have abandoned rural America to our own detriment, saying, ‘We can’t win there; Why bother showing up?' But this is my home,” Tranel said. “We have a lot to do. That won't happen in one visit. It won't happen with two people. I’ve been doing this over and over again for four years, and it’s because I care about the home I live in.”

This article first appeared in Inside Washington, a weekly TNR newsletter written by staff writer Grace Segers. Login here.

Mood check: Big trouble in the small DCA

Every week I report on the mood surrounding a particular policy or political development. This week: An update on plans to increase flights to and from DC's most convenient airport.

Now that Congress has funded the government, it's time to turn our attention to what really matters: a niche but fierce battle over whether the number of flights at Ronald Reagan National Airport (also known as DCA ) should be increased.

This week, congressional negotiators released legislation to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration ahead of a May 10 deadline. The bill includes a controversial provision that would add five new round-trip flights to Reagan National — 10 flights in total — beyond the airport's 1,250-mile radius. That provision quickly drew the ire of four Democratic senators from Virginia and Maryland, who suggested in a letter that it served the personal convenience of far-flung members of Congress.

“We understand Senators' desire to shorten their commutes home, but this proposal would benefit few and impact many, primarily in terms of security, but also delays and a reduction in the economic competitiveness of smaller destinations within the radius,” said Tim, Virginia Senators Kaine and Mark Warner, and Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollenciting a recent near-collision at the airport as well as a 2023 FAA memo warning of major delays as round-trip flights are added.

The so-called “DCA perimeter rule” bans nonstop flights to destinations more than 1,250 miles away, except for 10 major cities, in part to reduce congestion and ensure that Dulles International Airport remains the region's long-haul hub. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told lawmakers this week that Reagan National has “the hardest-working runway in the national airspace.”

“We would be concerned about the pressure this could put on the system. Of course we are ready to implement anything Congress proposes,” Buttigieg said.

The issue of additional slots helped stall negotiations over the FAA reauthorization bill last year, despite intense lobbying by airlines. In 2023, United Airlines, which opposes the expansion, spent more than $9 million on federal lobbying; Delta Air Lines, which supports adding more long-haul flights, spent about $5 million lobbying at the federal level.

Support for more DCA flights falls less along party lines than regional ones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the measure's biggest supporters come from Western states, while lawmakers who live closer to Washington are more likely to oppose it. One exception is Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, a DCA expansion supporter who already has a plethora of daily direct flights home — but his state is also home to Delta headquarters.

Van Hollen told me Wednesday that opponents of the expansion are pushing for an amendment process to remove that provision from the bill. “You cannot present this bill as a security measure if you are jeopardizing security at National Airport,” Van Hollen said after a meeting with the Senate Democratic caucus. He added that he had raised the issue in the meeting. “I just asked all of my colleagues how they would feel if Congress dictated how many slots all their local airports have,” he said.

What I read

challenger is a brutal game of desire by Annie Berke The New Republic
Interpreting Shogun was more than just a translationby Bethy Squires in vulture
America is far from the pinnacleby Amanda Mull in The Atlantic
Fighting cancer used to be a bipartisan effort. What happened? by Erin Schumaker in Politico
The storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain could shake up Nevada's U.S. Senate raceby Seema Mehta in Los Angeles Times
How far would Trump go?by Eric Cortellessa in Time
Tears and despair at the Florida abortion clinic in the final hours before the banby Caroline Kitchener in The Washington Post

Pet of the week

Would you like your pet to appear at the end of the next newsletter? Send me an email at [email protected].

This week's featured pet is Minnie the Mu, a dog submitted by King William. As her chic attire proves, Minnie was prepared for cold winter walks in Tennessee this year. (One can only imagine her summer look!)

Anna Harden

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