Republican Steve Daines, who is replacing GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg for Montana’s sole House seat, has never held elected office, but his fundraising acumen helped clear the GOP primary field and sent him gliding toward victory in the fall. The at-large seat opened up after Rehberg decided to run for the Senate against incumbent Democrat Sen. Jon Tester.
Daines grew up in Bozeman, where his father started his own home-construction business. He went on to study chemical engineering at Montana State University, where during his senior year he became one of the youngest delegates at the 1984 Republican National Convention. “I was a big fan of Ronald Reagan,” Daines said in an interview. “He was the first president I got to vote for.” Daines was selected as a delegate to the national gathering after giving a speech at a state convention in Montana.
When he graduated, Daines spent 13 years with consumer-goods giant Procter & Gamble. On an assignment in Iowa, Daines met his wife, Cindy, then a student at the University of Iowa. After seven years managing operations in the United States, he moved his young family overseas for a six-year stint with the company in Hong Kong and China. In 1997, Daines left Procter & Gamble to join the family construction business in Bozeman. Three years later, Daines got a call from local entrepreneur Greg Gianforte, founder of RightNow Technologies, asking him to come on as vice president of customer service. The cloud-based software company grew rapidly, eventually becoming Bozeman’s largest commercial employer. Daines took on a general management role and worked on RightNow’s Asia-Pacific business.
He dipped into local politics in 2007, when he and Cindy founded Giveitback.com, a nonprofit organization that pushed for the return of the state’s $1 billion budget surplus to taxpayers. Not long after that, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee asked Daines to serve as Montana state chairman for his presidential campaign. Daines also chaired Montana’s delegation to the 2008 Republican National Convention. The same year, he ran for lieutenant governor on a ticket with former state Sen. Roy Brown, but they failed to oust incumbent Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Two years later, Daines announced his intention to challenge Tester for his Senate seat. But when Rehberg in February 2011 said he would run against Tester, Daines dropped out and announced he would seek Rehberg’s vacated House seat, to avoid “a divisive primary,” he told the Associated Press.
Daines’ positions are traditionally Republican. He has said he would support across-the-board spending cuts and a freeze in federal spending at 2008 levels in lieu of tax hikes. He supports repeal of President Obama’s health care law and a requirement for all new regulations to be evaluated for their effects on economic growth and job creation. On energy policy, Daines has said he supports a market-based, all-inclusive approach to new energy sources. Montana is the sixth-largest coal-producing state and sits on part of the Bakken shale formation, one of the nation’s largest accumulations of crude oil.
His campaign cash made Daines the Republican front-runner in the June primary, where he took 71 percent of the vote. In Republican-dominated Montana, he had little trouble in the general election against Democrat Kim Gillian, a state senator from Billings, and Libertarian David Kaiser.