Democrats Pick Gillan in Montana Congressional Primary

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – State Sen. Kim Gillan of Billings prevailed in Tuesday’s crowded Democratic congressional primary and will face Bozeman businessman Steve Daines in Montana’s general election.

With 74 percent of the projected vote counted, Gillan led state Rep. Franke Wilmer of Bozeman 31-19 percent. Whitefish businesswoman Diane Smith had 16 percent and Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier had 14 percent. Three others split the rest.

Daines trounced unknowns Eric Brosten and Vincent Melkus as expected and held 71 percent of the vote.

Daines, an executive at RightNow Technologies, hopes to succeed Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. Republicans have held the state’s lone congressional seat since 1997.

Daines is running a campaign heavy on criticism of President Barack Obama’s policies while touting a familiar GOP message on cuts to federal spending and increases in natural resource development.

Neither Brosten nor Melkus, who listed out-of-state phone numbers on campaign filing paperwork, did much campaigning or raised any money.

With little competition in the primary, Daines stockpiled far more cash than any of the Democrats for a general election battle that is certain to get more intense. But Daines indicated he does not plan to go negative.

“I think our pro-growth and positive message of more jobs, and having that experience as a job creator, is something that is resonating with Montanans,” Daines said. “We are going to run a positive upbeat campaign that is going to be focused on the economy and jobs.”

Gillan, a workforce development director at Montana State University-Billings, fought her way to front-runner status in a crowded field in which no one began with much statewide name recognition.

She has said she hopes to appeal to independent voters in the general election with promises to work across the aisle in Congress to break gridlock.

“Voters want a track record, they want results,” Gillan said. “They want someone who can solve problems. They don’t want rhetoric.”

Democrats are hoping to retake a congressional seat they haven’t won in 18 years.

Smith, a political newcomer, faced an uphill battle reaching Democratic voters who may have been suspicious of her past campaign donations to some Democrats. She pushed for cheaper energy and said her background in business best positioned her to take on Daines.

Wilmer touted a self-made resume— in which she worked her way from blue-collar jobs to college professor — as a way to reach independents. She also tried to solidify a key environmental constituency by being somewhat critical of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Strohmaier was strongest in his appeal to the party’s liberal base. He supported Obama’s stance on gay marriage, called for federal health care policy that establishes a single-payer system, and made an issue of climate change by opposing too much fossil fuel development.

Others in the race were Rob Stutz of Helena and Jason Ward of Hardin.