HELENA — A Bozeman-area state Senate race keeps collecting unlikely candidates, with a former Republican saying Wednesday that he is running as a Democrat so he can change the "would-be communists" from within.
Michael Comstock filed this week to run as a Democrat in Senate District 34 — despite a campaign website that features common GOP talking points and is critical of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The announcement follows news that Kurt Bushnell, an active union political leader and supporter of Democrats, is seeking the GOP nomination in the conservative district.
Also seeking the Republican nomination for the seat is former Republican House Speaker Scott Sales, who is running despite his wife's recent guilty plea for embezzling.
Comstock said in an interview Wednesday that he is an independent and first considered running on the GOP side. But he chose to file as a Democrat because no one else was running on that side of the ticket.
Less than two years ago, Comstock ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for a different legislative seat. He garnered support from local tea party and conservative leaders during his loss to state Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman.
The software engineer said his conservative website's talking points — such as those calling for smaller government, a repeal of a business tax reviled by the GOP, and quotes highly critical of liberal ideas — are outdated. Comstock said his own views on issues are irrelevant because he plans on doing whatever his constituents want.
In a follow-up email to the interview, the self-described libertarian indicated it is the Democrats that need to leave the party he is now entering.
"It's been taken over by socialists and would-be communists. They need to get their own party," he said, going on to refer to his new party by a favorite GOP colloquialism. "So I decided that I can make a difference by trying to work within the Democrat party rather than hoping to pull it back to the center as a Republican."
The Montana Democratic Party said the ploy wouldn't work.
"If Republican politicians would rather play cute tricks than promote serious candidates, then we're confident Montanans will pick a more responsible direction in November," Montana Democratic Party spokesman Chris Saeger said.
The Montana Republican Party, which had been critical of Bushnell seeking their nomination, was equally harsh about Comstock's apparent switch.
"It's wrong for a Democrat to pretend to be a Republican and it's wrong for a Republican to pretend to be a Democrat," said GOP spokesman Bowen Greenwood. "People who want to be public servants ought to be honest about their politics."