Snakes on the Plains | Washington Examiner

The race for a new congressional district in Montana has taken on a reptilian feel.

In a campaign ad for the state’s new 1st congressional district, Democratic candidate Monica Tranel calls Republican rival Ryan Zinke a “snake.” It is one of the world’s oldest and most demeaning insults, dating back to biblical references to a “serpent” that triggered Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.


On the political front, in a George W. Bush-era film, Tranel references later ethics investigations by Zinke, a 2015-2017 member of the House of Representatives who went on to become former President Donald Trump’s first Secretary of the Interior – as in snakes on an airplane, Samuel L. Jackson’s 2006 camp action film about an FBI agent who takes on a plane full of deadly snakes to kill a witness against a crime boss.

It’s a not-too-subtle callback to the reasons why Zinke had to leave Trump’s cabinet after two years. Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL, faced increasing federal ethics investigations over his tour of duty. In particular, a report from the Inspector General showed that Zinke violated the Home Office’s travel policy by allowing his wife to ride in government vehicles.

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Tranel’s ad deals with another Prong controversy. The spot shows snakes crawling around a private jet as she accuses Zinke of spending “thousands of our taxpayers’ money on private plane flights” when he was home secretary.

“I’m Monica Tranel. I’ve spent my career taking on snakes like Ryan Zinke,” she says in the ad while retrieving a snake from an airport runway.

Zinke seemed taken aback by his opponent’s criticism of him in the extended Plains State (the definition includes Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, but also, in addition to a bit of Montana, parts of Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming).

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“Draining the swamp will expose snakes. And they’re attacking!” said the former interior minister in a video. “As Home Secretary, I received an extra dose of fake news and false accusations. And now, as I’m running for Congress, it’s happening again.”

Zinke has every reason to be optimistic about his comeback offer. Montana, after all, is a heavily Republican state, with Trump clearly beating President Joe Biden in 2020 by a margin of 57% to 41%.

However, the Big Sky State is rapidly diversifying politically. Due to strong population growth in the decade leading up to the 2020 census, starting January, Montana will have two house districts for the first time in 30 years. In the new 1st Circuit in western Montana, Trump would have beaten Biden, albeit by a narrower margin than statewide, 52.2% to 45.3%.

A opinion poll from the Democratic Super-PAC Big Sky Voters, taped Sept. 27-October 1, found that Zinke leads Tranel by 41% to 40%, while Libertarian candidate John Lamb received 8%. The Victoria Research poll of 840 likely voters, conducted by live callers with a margin of error of 3.4%, found Zinke to be 41% positive compared to 49% unfavorable.

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Tranel is a lawyer and former rower. She represented the United States at the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics.

Despite Tranel’s criticism of Zinke, he’s likely to win in Montana — at least this year, since Republicans have a built-in voter registration advantage. Thirty-five, the election forecaster, recently gave Zinke a 94 percent chance of winning.

But political observers predict the district could become more competitive as the decade progresses, especially as resort towns like Butte and Missoula continue to attract Liberals who are leaving the West Coast for less expensive homes with more land and open space.


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