Tom Winter (D), who served in the Montana House of Representatives and is currently launching a bid for Congress, said that the inequality in the United States, exacerbated by the pandemic, has had a significant impact on his rural, working-class electorate.
"We're seeing a lot of the inequality that's been seen in large coastal cities creeping into our world here. It's really causing a lot of pain, and my campaign is trying to answer that and hopefully chart a way forward in this new district and new reality Montanans are facing," Winter said in an interview with HillTV's "Rising."
"The extreme forces of inequality that we've been seeing in other parts of the country, and I might sound like a broken record or like I'm saying something that's pretty obvious, had not really hit here yet. And the pandemic changed everything," Winter said.
Winter stressed how shortages and price increases in the housing market that have affected areas across the country in the last year have also impacted the district he's running to represent in western Montana, especially, he said, with people from coastal cities relocating there during the pandemic.
"There is no way to get a house. And prices for housing have doubled or tripled because people from the coasts are moving here and we simply don't have the infrastructure, the inventory or honestly, like, the state culture of being able to understand how to absorb all of these new people so quickly," Winter said.
"And so that is really changing and really activating working class politics here in Montana in a way that I don't think we've seen since probably the prior gains of the union era," he continued.
In terms of how the influx of new residents from liberal, coastal cities has influenced the state's political identity, Winter said the state has always been "somewhat strange" in its political ideology. He noted as evidence that Montana currently has a Democratic senator and a Republican senator and has had Democratic governors for over 15 years.
"That Montana kind of, I would say individualistic look at the way politics can go is being scrambled even more by what we're seeing with the unhoused and with kind of the break down of our meager social services that we have already," he said.
The increase of people moving to Montana has had a notable impact on the district Winter is running in, as he claims that 60 to 70 percent of his electorate was not born in the state.
"We're seeing a lot of people moving to certain parts of the state, especially from the Seattle area, that actually claim to be fed up with the problems of what they consider the liberal Seattle base," Winter said.