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Rob Quist, the Montana musician-turned-congressional hopeful, took a defiant tone Thursday during a “health care town hall” tour stop at the Union Club in Missoula.

Quist is the Democratic candidate to replace now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as the state’s lone U.S. representative and is being challenged by Republican Greg Gianforte and Libertarian Mark Wicks in a special election. Ballots will be mailed April 28 and voting ends May 25.

“All (Gianforte) is doing is hiding in his lair and kinda throwing these mudballs at me,” Quist told the crowd. “I challenge him and congressional leaders to come out into the light of day and listen to these health care stories that everyday Montanans are telling. I challenge them to do that.”

While Quist has made a number of campaign appearances across the state since he was chosen as the Democratic nominee, Gianforte has kept a relatively low public profile, holding call-in "tele-town halls" after a failed gubernatorial bid last November. 

Quist also took a shot at Sen. Steve Daines. 

"Steve Daines talks about his town hall meetings but he's not in town and he's not in a hall," Quist said. "The former mayor of Great Falls introduced me the other night and said he'd rather have Rob Quist as a partner to Jon Tester than Greg Gianforte as a partner to Steve Daines."

For about an hour, Quist took questions and comments from the crowd on a variety of issues, from the high cost of pharmaceutical drugs to Republicans' failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Quist said he supports the idea of a single-payer health care system, where the government would cover health care costs rather than people buying from private insurance companies.

He also said he supports access to birth control, preventive screenings and “a woman’s right to choose,” and opposes tax breaks for insurance executives, which he said was a part of the Republicans’ failed health care bill.

Quist’s personal health issues have been in the media spotlight lately. The Billings Gazette has quoted Quist attributing his 16-year debt trail to 20 years of sporadic illness due to a botched gallbladder surgery in 1996. The Gazette also reported this week that, according to court documents, Quist said he was too sick to work and make mortgage payments in 2011, even though he played 35 shows with the Mission Mountain Wood band that year.

Quist did not directly address the Gazette stories on Thursday and the campaign declined to comment when asked. He did talk about how he was nearly bankrupted by his own health care bills and those of his family. He also talked about the need to make health care more affordable for the average working family.

“My health care issues have been splattered across the state,” he said. “This is something I have not hidden from. I kind of laid out all my issues in gory detail in my first speech at the Missoula Public Library.”

Later, Quist said that his political opponents are using intimidation and humiliation as a form of bullying to “get to” him. He also said that the Gianforte campaign is using the media and social media to do that.

“I challenge Gianforte and all their media mouthpieces to come listen to the stories today,” he said. “Greg Gianforte has $2.5 million in stock for some of these pharmaceutical companies that are charging such high prices. We need to reject Mr. Gianforte and the dinosaur he rode in on.”

Quist was referring to the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum, which espouses the idea that the world is about 6,000 to 6,400 years old and is a six-day divine creation. That means, according to the museum, that dinosaurs and humans coexisted. There is even a depiction of a Native American person riding a dinosaur. One of the core foundations of the museum is that the Bible is an accurate, literal history of the world. The Gianforte Family Foundation donated a large Tyrannosaurus rex model and Acrocanthosaurus exhibit in the museum’s main hall. The foundation was set up by Gianforte.

Quist also railed against the disparity between the super-wealthy and middle-class and poor Americans, a disparity he said is only getting bigger because of Republican-instituted tax breaks for the rich.

“A rancher told me that money is a lot like b.s.,” Quist said. “If you pile it up it just starts to stink. But if you spread it around it just starts to grow everything. I told him I couldn't have put it any better.”

Quist said Dwight D. Eisenhower taxed the super-rich by 90 percent.

“That sounds high, but it was brilliant,” Quist said, adding that Eisenhower believed that the rich would just hold on to their money if it wasn’t taxed, but high tax rates would cause them to invest in businesses and infrastructure.

“With all the tax cuts, it’s so low now that the rich are piling up their money,” he said.

He also said that the United States needs to start rewarding the health care system for keeping people healthy and preventing conditions rather than for how many procedures like chemotherapy they can charge to patients.

“Life under the big sky has to work for everyone or it doesn’t work for anyone,” Quist said. “This election is so important. This is literally a fight for the soul of Montana in so many ways. It’s a fight for public lands. It’s my great honor to serve the people in the big sky. Let’s go win this thing.”

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