- Associated Press - Saturday, March 11, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s Libertarian Party picked Mark Wicks to be its candidate in the May 25 special election, finalizing the slate to fill the state’s vacant congressional seat.

The 46-year-old cattle rancher and writer from Inverness will be up against Democrat Rob Quist, a political newcomer, and Republican Greg Gianforte, who unsuccessfully ran for governor last fall.

The Libertarian Party selected Wicks during a nominating convention Saturday in Helena attended by about three dozen people.

Wicks acknowledged the long odds against him.

“I know it’s an uphill battle,” he said. “I can see where I have a lot of advantages. My party is not fighting with anybody. The other parties are fighting back and forth. I’m going to stand up and show that Montana can send somebody back to Washington who can stand up for Montana.”

After being nominated, Wicks brushed off questions about his ability to mount a serious campaign. He said he would travel the state to convince voters that his candidacy represents an opportunity to set aside the hyper-partisanship in Washington.

With just $1,000 in the bank, Wicks has little chance of getting the necessary attention from voters across the expansive state.

He said he would draw votes from Republicans and Democrats alike, but rejected that he would act as a spoiler.

He took a jab at Gianforte, a wealthy Bozeman entrepreneur, who Wicks noted has the ability to self-finance his congressional campaign - as he did in his bid for governor. And Wicks asserted Quist as out of touch with the philosophical and political convictions of most Montanans.

A tight race between Gianforte and Quist could put Wicks in a position to influence the outcome of the race.

In the 2016 gubernatorial campaign, the Libertarian ticket drew 3 percent of the vote - just below the 4 percent margin separating Gianforte and Gov. Steve Bullock, who was re-elected with slightly more than half of all votes cast.

“Each candidate has their own ideas about the direction we should take for our country, but Greg’s running for Congress to be on Montana’s side,” said the Republican’s spokesman, Shane Scanlon.

Quist said he welcomed Wicks in the race.

“It’s good for Montanans to have choices in this election and we are confident that Rob Quist will earn Montanans’ vote as an independent voice for Montana,” said Quist’s spokeswoman, Tina Olechowski.

Quist, a well-known entertainer, stumped for votes in Helena and Butte on Saturday and was scheduled to hold a rally in Polson later in the evening. He was expected to meet with supporters in Whitefish on Monday.

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