HELENA – The final day for candidate filings brought optimism from both Democrats and Republicans that they will prevail in key races to control the state Legislature and the governor’s office.
Republicans want to take control of the state Senate from Democrats, increase their margin in the House and topple incumbent Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Party spokesman Chris Carter says they are proud of the 143 legislative candidates who have so far filed to run in 110 legislative races. A total of 125 legislative seats are up for election.
Democrats insist they are well-positioned to maintain control of the Senate, take the bitterly contested House from the GOP and keep Schweitzer in the governor’s office.
Democrats had 146 legislative candidates running in 115 districts.
Races for U.S. Senate and U.S. House will be at the top of the ticket, but a big prize for the parties will be control of state government.
Democratic state Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Missoula said the party had “the strongest slate of candidates running across the state than we have ever had before.”
Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre, was involved in recruiting candidates. He said he thinks Democrats can take slim control of a House that the GOP held by a 50-49-1 margin last session. And he thinks the Democrats will keep a slim lead in the Senate.
“We have places where we are going to be competitive where we traditionally might not have been,” Bergren said.
Republicans were surprised when former state Senate President Bob Keenan filed to run in a four-way Republican primary for a Bigfork-area House district.
Republicans think their message will resonate after four years of Schweitzer, and the results of split control in the Legislature.
“I think that Montanans are realizing we need fiscal responsibly and we need less government in the Capitol,” Carter said. “I think that will translate well into us regaining control of the Legislature.”
Schweitzer has some primary challengers, but it appears they might not pose much threat.
Two Helena teachers and active Internet bloggers launched a campaign for governor and lieutenant governor, but they say they like the job Schweitzer is doing. And two men involved with Kingdom Power Glory International ministries of Kalispell also quietly filed paperwork Thursday for the offices.
At the very least, though, the challengers free up Schweitzer to spend about $200,000 in donations earmarked for the primary — helping him spread his message and prepare for his race against Republican challenger Roy Brown.
Donald Pogreba, a Helena High English teacher, said he did not run so that Schweitzer could spend the money and says he has never spoken to the governor before. He said he hopes he can raise the profile of education issues in the race.
Brown’s campaign is focused squarely on government spending and tax cuts, while trying to take away one of Schweitzer’s favorite issues — energy development. At his campaign filing, Brown said he would look for ways to increase development of coal-bed methane while reducing regulatory hurdles for traditional energy sources.
Brown also got a late challenger in his primary, from Larry Steele of Great Falls who unsuccessfully ran for the Legislature last cycle.
It was unclear if one conservative representative’s effort to recruit challengers for 13 fellow Republicans was effective. Five of the incumbents did have a Republican primary challenger come forward before the filing deadline.
Rep. Roger Koopman, who has taken heat from some Republicans for his recruiting efforts, said Thursday he did not want discuss whether he recruited the challengers.
A total of 302 candidates filed for legislative races, down from 307 two years ago. Secretary of State Brad Johnson said more than a third of the 364 total legislative and non-legislative candidates filed electronically, the first year that option was available.
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