Big leads in both polls and finances throughout the campaign ultimately foretold a big win on election night for Republican Steve Daines in the race for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat.
Daines, a 50-year-old businessman from Bozeman, led wire to wire in polls over Democrat Kim Gillan, while also boasting more than a two-to-one advantage in campaign funds. He raised nearly $2 million to Gillan’s $820,000. Altogether, it was Montana’s most expensive House race since 2000, when Republican Denny Rehberg beat Democrat Nancy Keenan.
When the Associated Press called the race shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, Daines had received 53 percent of the votes, with Gillan coming in at 43 percent and Libertarian David Kaiser of Victor receiving 4 percent.
A former executive at Bozeman’s RightNow Technologies in Bozeman, Daines distinguished himself during the campaign as a businessman rather than a “career politician.” His platform was based on strong conservative ideals, both in a fiscal and social sense.
He favors a balanced-budget amendment for the federal government, repealing the Affordable Care Act and overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. The Republican also supports a plan proposed by vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to create a “premium-support” system for Medicare, citing forecasts that Medicare will go broke in 12 years.
In an October interview, Daines felt confident about his chances based on polls and endorsements, including from three of Montana’s largest newspapers: the Billings Gazette, Missoulian and Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
“It’s a bit unusual for a Republican to receive the endorsements of all three of those papers,” he said. “And I think it just demonstrates the support we’re seeing of the ideas I represent to help get the country back on track.”
Gillan, 60, a longtime legislator and workforce development coordinator from Billings, secured the Democratic nomination after winning a crowded primary in June. Throughout the campaign, she touted her legislative record from 16 years as a state senator and representative, arguing that she’s a proven problem-solver capable of bipartisanship.
Gillan said she was the best candidate to represent the needs of the middle class, seniors and women, pointing to Daines’ positions on abortion and Medicare, among other issues.
The seat was open because of Rehberg’s decision to run for the U.S. Senate rather than run for a seventh term in the House. Republican Rick Hill preceded Rehberg. Hill replaced Democrat Pat Williams, who retired after serving nine terms from 1979-1997. Williams’ tenure included terms as the state’s lone congressman and terms as one of two representatives when Montana had two congressional districts.
Daines has never held elected office before. He ran as lieutenant governor on Republican Roy Brown’s unsuccessful 2008 gubernatorial campaign. Other political experience includes serving as a Montana delegate for Ronald Reagan in 1984, work on several Montana Republican campaigns and state chairman for Republican Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008.
Daines also made a name for himself in Montana politics when he founded a website called giveitback.com in 2007 urging Gov. Brian Schweitzer to return the state surplus to taxpayers.
He has been married for 25 years and has four children.
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