South Carolina transplant announces for Montana Senate seat

bbunch@theitem.comJune 8, 2013 

When the national mid-term elections come up next year, Republicans nationwide will be looking to find a few candidates who can turn the balance of the U.S. Senate to their favor, and a Sumter native is hoping to represent his party in what is expected to be a battleground state.

Champ Edmunds, a 1981 graduate of Wilson Hall who has lived in Montana for the past 16 years, declared his candidacy last month, hoping to convince Big Sky Country voters to support sending him to Washington, D.C., in the 2014 elections. He spoke to The Item about his plans during a recent visit home.

In making his announcement in April, more than a year before the primaries in Montana, Edmunds hopes to have the time to overcome obstacles that currently lead pollsters and pundits to label his campaign as a longshot.

First, Edmunds starts with a distinct name identification disadvantage, as nearly four out of five Montana voters asked in a poll last month had either never heard of Edmunds or had no opinion. It's a disadvantage Edmunds recognizes.

"I'm a state legislator. Most folks outside of Missoula don't know who I am," said Edmunds, who is currently in his second term representing a portion of the Missoula area in the state's House of Representatives.

In that same poll, conducted by Harper Polling, Edmunds received only 3 percent of the support in the GOP primary, well behind more well-known, albeit yet undeclared candidates like former Montana governor Marc Racicot and current U.S. Rep. Steve Daines. Neither has announced his intentions, but Daines told The Hill last month he is considering a senatorial bid but had not established any time frame to make that decision. That decision could ultimately affect Edmunds.

"I told Steve I would move over and run for his Congressional seat," Edmunds said. The number of potential candidates also highlights another issue for Edmunds – raising the necessary funds for a viable campaign that could very well take on a national feel.

Republicans have not had a majority in the U.S. Senate since 2006, and Edmunds believes the Montana election will be key to the GOP's retaking Congress. And the race has already garnered a lot of attention because the current senator, Democrat Max Baucus, announced earlier this year he would be retiring after serving six terms in the Senate.

"This is now the number one or two most-looked-at senate race," Edmunds said. "There's going to be a lot of money spent on this race."

Baucus' retirement has also prompted several candidates on the Democratic side to consider throwing their hat into the ring as well, including former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, whom Edmunds thinks would be a more difficult opponent for Republicans than Baucus would have been.

"He (Baucus) was the primary author of Obamacare, and those things just work to hurt him, and I think people are just ready for some new blood," Edmunds said. "The best politician in the state, head and shoulders, is Brian Schweitzer. So, if the people of Montana want to send a politician to Washington, they should vote for Brian Schweitzer. If they want to send a regular guy to Washington who wants to make a difference, they should vote for me."

Before being able to focus on a general election race, however, Edmunds has to win the GOP primary. And to that end he said he plans to continue to work on making himself and his positions known to Montana voters.

He's done this so far by launching his website www.champ2014.com, speaking at as many Republican party dinners around the state as possible, and submitting guest editorials to Montana newspapers. Edmunds is even using his distinct face — he was born with partial facial paralysis — to help build his recognition with voters.

"I keep telling people I've got a face and a name people can remember. And it's true. I say it kind of jokingly, but it's true," Edmunds said. "They might not remember John Smith, but they'll remember Champ, the guy with the paralyzed face."

And while name identification is important for any candidate, Edmunds believes the race will ultimately pivot to the issues. So Edmunds spends a lot of his time speaking to voters on his stance on gun control proposals — he is adamantly opposed to expanding restrictions — as well as the need to balance the federal budget.

"We need to stop spending more than we're taking in," Edmunds said. "We have that debt clock that you see pictures of that keeps going up and up and up and up. But before we can make it go down, we have to stop it from going up. So, the first goal should be at least let's make it stop moving."

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