state representative Smith launches long shot primary bid against Gianforte

State Representative Tanner Smith, a Lakeside Republican and owner of an excavation company, is currently serving his first term in the Montana House. His decision to enter the gubernatorial race materialized a few weeks into the 2023 legislative session, driven by his belief that the incumbent, Governor Gianforte, has not governed as a true conservative.

Expressing his vision for Montana, Smith emphasized the need to return to the state’s traditional values, stating, “We know what Montana’s supposed to look like. We need to get back to the Montana that I grew up in. Everybody thrives when we use conservative principles.” Smith specifically criticized the rapid rollout of adult-use marijuana sales, expressing concerns about potential health problems and increased crime.

Highlighting the importance of leveraging natural resources and diversifying the state’s revenue streams, Smith advocated for a shift away from taxing the population for existing resources. Despite being less well-known statewide compared to Gianforte, Smith believes he has a chance in the primary, asserting that his resonance with Montanans sets him apart. He emphasized his identity as a father of five, connecting with the Montana lifestyle, and noted that while Gianforte may have financial resources, he believes his message carries more weight.

Smith’s campaign finance reports show he raised less than $18,000 between April and December 2023, and loaned his campaign $70,563. In contrast, Gianforte’s first campaign finance report is not due until next month. While Smith has yet to select a lieutenant governor candidate, he aims for a running mate with substantial experience in state government.

On the Democratic side, Ryan Busse, a Kalispell-based gun control activist and author, has entered the gubernatorial race. The deadline for candidates to join the race is March 11.