HELENA – Democrat Linda McCulloch, a former legislator who became the state school superintendent, held a narrow lead in the race for secretary of state over Republican incumbent Brad Johnson, according to unofficial results Wednesday.
With all but provisional ballots counted, McCulloch drew 49 percent of the vote to Johnson’s 48 percent. She led by 4,474 votes out of 459,666 cast for the two candidates. The Constitution Party’s Sieglinde Sharbono received 11,523 votes.
A McCulloch victory in the race would put Democrats in full control of the state Land Board, which manages state lands to make money for public schools. The board deals with such hot-button issues as coal development and timber sales.
Besides the secretary of state, the board consists of the governor, state auditor, attorney general and superintendent. Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer was re-elected Tuesday and Democratic candidates were successful in holding onto the other statewide offices.
Vote counting continued well into Wednesday after Gallatin County officials met problems in electronically scanning absentee ballots. While the contests for auditor, superintendent and other offices were called, the secretary of state race was too close to declare a winner.
“I’ve been cautiously optimistic since last night,” McCulloch said Wednesday. “Should everything hold as it is, I am really looking forward to being secretary of state.”
Johnson had no immediate comment and was preparing a statement for release Thursday, spokesman Bowen Greenwood said.
Johnson, 57, was a Bozeman-area businessman before his election four years ago as secretary of state, Montana’s chief elections official and the keeper of records required of businesses. In seeking a second term he ran on his experience in the $79,129-a-year job and said he wanted to accomplish more goals, some tied to upcoming technological advancements in the secretary’s office.
McCulloch, 53, campaigned aggressively, criticizing Johnson for lines that delayed voting at some polling places in 2006 and for missing six of the several dozen Land Board meetings held during his time in office.
Johnson had attributed the lines to unusually large voter turnout in 2006, but said no one who queued up before the polls’ scheduled closing times was turned away. Illness and state business largely accounted for the missed meetings, he said.
McCulloch, a former school librarian, said during her campaign that she wanted to increase voter participation through outreach programs in schools and colleges.
In other races, voters elected Denise Juneau of Helena to the post of superintendent. She prevailed over Republican Elaine Sollie Herman, also of Helena, 51 percent to 44 percent. For state auditor, Monica Lindeen of Huntley defeated Republican Duane Grimes of Clancy, 53 percent to 47 percent.
Juneau, Indian education administrator in the state Office of Public Instruction, said Wednesday that she had a broad base of support and that Democrats running for statewide office benefited from the momentum of Barack Obama, even though he did not carry Montana in his successful run for the presidency.
Lindeen said clear distinctions between her and the Republican candidate contributed to her win in the race for state auditor, who regulates the securities and insurance industries.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.