Donald Trump Jr. and a National Rifle Association official campaigned with Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte Thursday, calling him the right choice on May 25 for “freedom” and aiding the agenda of President Trump.
“When I see us rolling back these regulations, I want somebody who’s going to fight for those same things – make it easier for small businesses and big businesses alike, to do well and to be successful,” Trump Jr. told a crowd of 300 supporters at the Kleffner Ranch barn south of East Helena.
Trump Jr. and Gianforte, a Bozeman businessman running for Montana’s open congressional seat, also planned stops at three other campaign rallies Thursday, in Butte, Sidney and Great Falls.
They were joined by Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, who blasted Democratic candidate Rob Quist as a supporter of gun registration and someone who couldn’t be trusted to stand up for gun rights.
“Who actually would admit that in Montana, that they would (support gun registration)?” he asked. “Well – Rob Quist.”
Quist, a singer-songwriter and musician from Creston, has denied that he ever spoke in favor of gun registration – but Republicans have made it a central focus of the campaign.
Libertarian Mark Wicks also is in the race for Montana’s congressional seat, which will be decided in a May 25 special election, in two weeks.
The winner will fill the seat vacated March 1 by Republican Ryan Zinke, who was appointed as Trump’s secretary of the Interior.
Trump Jr. made his second trip to Montana to campaign for Gianforte, and Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to be in Billings on Friday to support the Republican candidate.
Some recent polls have shown Gianforte with only a single-digit lead, just six months after Donald Trump blew out Hillary Clinton in the state by 20 points. But GOP officials have said they’re confident of a Gianforte victory.
Gianforte, a multimillionaire software entrepreneur who lost a close race for governor in November, has fully embraced the president, saying he wants to help him “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C.
Gianforte expanded on that theme Thursday, calling for term limits for members of Congress and making it illegal for them to be employed as lobbyists after they leave office.
Yet the No. 1 subject Thursday seemed to be guns and gun rights, as Cox, Gianforte and Trump Jr. all talked about hunting and firearms as time-honored Montana traditions – and how Quist is allied with gun-control advocates.
Gianforte said an “East Coast” reporter recently interviewed him and asked how many guns he owned.
“I told him the same thing I tell everybody else: The right number of guns is always one more,” he said.
Cox also called Gianforte “a guy who doesn’t buy meat at the grocery store because he’s got a freezer-full, because he’s a real hunter.
“This is a guy who unapologetically stands up for individual freedom, including the one that protects all the other ones, and that’s the 2nd Amendment,” he continued.
Trump Jr.’s speech was briefly interrupted by a Trump critic, who asked when the president would reveal his tax returns.
Trump Jr. said Rachel Maddow of MSNBC had already revealed that his father had made “150 million bucks and paid 45 million bucks in taxes.”
“So, guess what? You can do it all,” he said. “You can be successful, you can pay your taxes, and you can pay a lot more than the hypocrites who want you to pay 90 percent.”
Organizers of the event then ushered the critic out of the building.
A solo protester also stood outside the building, holding a sign that said “You can’t buy my vote – So go home, rich boys.”
The protester – Marlene Simms, a retired teacher from Helena – said she’s upset over “the disaster in the White House,” including the president’s support for the bill repealing the Affordable Care Act.
“The health-care bill that passed the House is horrible,” Simms told MTN News. “I can’t imagine anyone would ever vote for it.”
Trump Jr. compared Gianforte to his father, saying both are successful businessmen who don’t need the job of president of congressman, and therefore can’t be influenced by special interests.
“We need more people that don’t need that job, that don’t need that special interest money, that don’t need those perks,” he said. “Because so much of of D.C., they’ve gotten rich and very comfortable off the backs of hard-working Americans, while people such as yourselves have been forgotten entirely.”