BILLINGS — Helena attorney Pam Bucy emerged as the winner in the Democratic primary for Montana attorney general on Wednesday, managing a slim victory over former state lawmaker Jesse Laslovich.
Bucy now faces Republican Tim Fox, an attorney, in November.
The closely-watched Democratic contest remained in doubt long after the polls closed Tuesday night. With 79,601 votes counted, Bucy led Laslovich by just 583 votes, or 40,092 to 39,509.
After taking a Wednesday concession call from Laslovich, Bucy, 43, credited her victory to her experience as a prosecutor and a campaign that stuck to the issues. But she quickly drew a distinction with Fox, who has talked about strengthening safeguards against sex offenders.
“There’s a clear choice in the general election and we’re going to make sure people know what that choice is,” she said. “I am the one person who really has put sex offenders behind bars. I am the person doing this work.”
Laslovich acknowledged defeat in an email sent out to his supporters.
“While we were not successful in our efforts, I’m incredibly proud of the campaign we ran,” he wrote. “My close friends stood by me when it counted most.”
On the Republican side, voters gave Fox his second shot at becoming Montana’s top attorney by delivering a comfortable victory over state Sen. Jim Shockley.
Fox lost the 2008 attorney general’s race to Democrat Steve Bullock, who is running for governor this year. With 97 percent of the projected vote counted, Fox led Shockley 58-42 percent.
The last time a Republican was elected attorney general in Montana was in 1988. Marc Racicot served in the post prior to becoming governor.
A native of Hardin, Fox, 54, works as a private practice attorney in Helena and lives in Montana City.
Among his stated goals are to use the attorney general’s office to battle what he views as an overreaching federal government. That includes provisions of the federal health care law.
“Montanans really want an attorney general that’s going to make a change in direction, and that starts with someone who will stand up against the federal government,” Fox said Wednesday.
Fox also said the statewide registry of offenders has not been properly maintained. And he pledged to use the attorney general’s seat on the State Land Board to push for more development of Montana’s natural resources.
Fox benefited from outside support from the Republican State Leadership Committee. The Virginia-based group reportedly spent heavily on radio and direct-mail ads supporting his candidacy — a fact that Shockley claimed tipped the balance in an otherwise close race.
In other statewide races, Republicans picked Brad Johnson to retake the secretary of state’s seat he lost four years ago. Incumbent Democrat Linda McCulloch was unopposed.
Candidates for auditor and superintendent of public instruction also were unopposed.
State Auditor Monica Lindeen, a Democrat, faces Republican Derek Skees, a state legislator from Kalispell, in the general election.
For superintendent of public instruction, Republican Sandy Welch, a grant writer and former teacher, is challenging first-term incumbent Democrat Denise Juneau.
For the Public Service Commission, Republican Kirk Bushman won the Republican primary in District 2 serving southeast Montana. Ken Tooley won the district’s Democratic nomination.
In District 3, serving southwest Montana, Roger Koopman was picked as the Republican nominee. Mark Sweeny and John Vincent were seeking the Democratic nomination.
In District 4 serving northwest Montana, Republican Bob Lake won and will face incumbent Democrat Gail Gutsche, who was unopposed.
For Supreme Court, Elizabeth Best, Laurie McKinnon and Ed Sheehy were locked in a tight three-way contest in which two of them will advance to the non-partisan general election.
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