WASHINGTON – A Democratic candidate who said he would not campaign or raise money has unexpectedly won the party’s U.S. House primary in the race to challenge Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg.
The unofficial election results, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, showed former Montana House Speaker John Driscoll with 49 percent of the vote. The expected winner had been Helena lawyer Jim Hunt, who finished with 42 percent.
Farmer Bob Candee was a distant third with 9 percent of the vote.
Driscoll had vowed not to raise any money and said he’d be “perfectly happy” if he lost and “absolutely delighted” if Hunt won. But he’s running anyway because he feels strongly that the federal government is corrupt, and money in politics is one of its worst vices.
Woken up at almost 2 a.m. MST with the news that he had won the primary, Driscoll said he wasn’t surprised. He wouldn’t comment on whether he will raise money during the upcoming general election campaign.
“I’m pretty sure how the campaign’s going to work but I don’t want to talk about it tonight,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
He promised he would wage a vigorous contest against Rehberg.
“A campaign with no money does not translate into no campaign,” he said.
Hunt said earlier Tuesday that he was “cautiously optimistic” that he would win. He campaigned in Butte, Missoula and Helena Tuesday and planned to gather with supporters to watch returns.
During his primary bid, he touted his experience as an Army National Guard officer and avid sportsman. He was the only Democrat to raise a significant amount of money, reporting in May that he had brought in $189,000 since he entered the race in February.
On May 14, Rehberg had $626,000 in his account, compared to Hunt’s $100,000.
Rehberg had a comfortable 52 percent to 20 percent lead over Hunt in a Lee Newspapers poll conducted last month. Hunt was unknown by 61 percent of those polled, and 23 percent were undecided.
Those polled were not asked about Driscoll.
The Montana Democratic Party hadn’t officially endorsed anyone in the primary, but spokesman Kevin O’Brien said last month that the party was “encouraged by how hard Jim Hunt’s working.
Rehberg is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which doles out federal dollars, and has joined with other Republicans in calling for reforming the way Congress spends money. He said he plays an important role as the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation and wants to stay in Congress to continue pushing for an increase in domestic energy production, better access to health care for Montana families and more benefits for veterans, among other things.
Libertarian Mike Fellows ran unopposed in the primary and will automatically appear on the November ballot.
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