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Sanders returns to offer Quist an assist

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Bernie's back. Or at least he will be. The details are still being hammered out, but it was confirmed this week that Sen. Bernie Sanders—everyone's favorite shaker-upper of the Democratic establishment in 2016will return to Montana in May. And this time it won't be his own campaign he'll be stumping for, but that of U.S. House candidate Rob Quist.

"I'm excited that Bernie Sanders recognizes that our grassroots campaign is building momentum and has the best chance in decades to take back Montana's U.S. House seat for the rest of us," Quist said in a statement Monday. According to the Quist campaign, the Sanders schedule is still being finalized.

Though Quist's campaign has gained steam in recent weeks, reporting more than $1.3 million in donations and pulling the trigger on its second statewide ad buy, the Sanders announcement is the first major nod from national Dems. Quist's bid has attracted endorsements and contributions from national groups like the American Federation of Musicians, the AFL-CIO and Democracy for America, the PAC founded by former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean. Yet mainstream party organizations have kept themselves at arm's length, even as outside conservative groups and, most recently, the National Republican Congressional Committee have pummeled Quist with attack ads.

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It's not entirely clear if Sanders' willingness to campaign for Quist signals a change in the national Democrats' hands-off approach to the race. The DNC's April 10 press release announcing Montana as a spring stop for Sanders—part of his multi-state "Come Together and Fight Back Tour" alongside DNC chair Tom Perez—didn't mention the May 25 special election at all. Instead, the stated purpose of the trip was "to begin the process of creating a Democratic Party which is strong and active in all 50 states." Quist's campaign confirms that any event or events it collaborates on with Sanders won't be part of that DNC tour.

Regardless of whether the DNC and others decide to start supporting Quist, Sanders himself will likely provide a powerful boost. Thousands packed into Caras Park for Sanders' presidential campaign event last May, and he defeated Hillary Clinton in the Montana Democratic primary by more than 9,300 votes. Shirley Juhl, a Missoula-based Quist volunteer who was scurrying Tuesday to set up a livestreamed "Stand with Rob" fundraiser at the Public House, says Sanders will undoubtedly help "ignite the younger generation."

Quist isn't the only congressional candidate to attract a celebrity guest. Last week brought the announcement that Republican Greg Gianforte, the Bozeman tech mogul who unsuccessfully ran for governor last year, will be joined on the campaign trail by Donald J. Trump Jr., the president's son. The two will be appearing in Kalispell, Hamilton and Billings this Friday and Bozeman on Saturday, with tickets starting at around $35 per person. The Quist campaign has no plans to charge an entry fee for any Sanders events.

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