Montana Primary Election Field Takes Shape

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Dozens of people filed as candidates for office ahead of Monday’s deadline by the Montana Secretary of State, setting up competitive races for seats in the U.S. Senate and House, along with a slate of legislative and judicial openings in June’s primary elections.

Seventy people filed their last-minute paperwork online, in person, by mail or by fax by the 5 p.m. deadline, according to the Secretary of State’s data. That makes for a total of 350 candidates — excluding those who filed, then withdrew — since the filing period began in January for the two federal seats, 125 state legislative offices, two Montana Supreme Court positions, two Public Service Commission spots and several district judgeships.

Independent, minor-party and indigent candidates have until May 27 to submit signed petitions to run for office.

Primary elections are scheduled for June 3, when party nominees will be chosen for the Nov. 4 general election.

Three Democrats, three Republicans and a Libertarian are vying to replace U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who stepped down to become the next ambassador to China. The hopefuls include Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, who is leaving his House seat to run for Senate, and Democratic Sen. John Walsh, whom Gov. Steve Bullock appointed to fill the remainder of Baucus’ term.

Five Republicans, two Democrats and a Libertarian are running to replace Daines.

By Monday evening, more than 310 people had filed as candidates for the state’s first legislative elections since the legislative maps were redrawn to account for population shifts in the 2010 U.S. Census.

Democrats, who are the minority party in both the state House and Senate, are fielding at least one candidate in every legislative race for the first time in recent memory. Republicans, who did not have a candidate in more than a dozen races, said their goal is to find candidates ideologically aligned with their districts.

GOP leaders acknowledged that redistricting may make it difficult for them to keep their majority in both chambers.

Competitive races also are shaping up in both of the Montana Supreme Court elections, a handful of district judgeships and an open Public Service Commission seat.

Here is a look at the top races:


Daines, a freshman congressman, raised more than $1 million in the final three months of 2013. State Rep. Champ Edmunds and Susan Cundiff, an administrative assistant at the University of Montana’s School of Business Administration, filed their paperwork Monday to run for the GOP nomination.

Walsh, the former lieutenant governor, is now the incumbent and faces political newcomer Dirk Adams of Wilsall and former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger in the Democratic primary.

Roger Roots of Livingston filed Monday as a Libertarian candidate.


Daines’ Senate run has led to a crowded Republican field for his seat. The contenders include state Sen. Elsie Arntzen of Billings, state Sen. Matt Rosendale of Glendive, real estate investor Drew Turiano of Helena, former state Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings and former state Rep. Ryan Zinke of Whitefish.

On the Democratic side, former Baucus aide John Lewis is making his first run for elected office. Former state Rep. John Driscoll filed to run last week with the pledge he would accept no campaign contributions for the primary.

Mike Fellows of Missoula filed to run as a Libertarian.


Democrats have their sights set on retaking the majority in at least one chamber for the 2015 legislative session, with 100 House and 25 Senate seats up for election this year. Redistricting means many candidates will be campaigning in new areas, and Republican Sen. Ed Walker complained the new legislative maps skew in Democrats’ favor.

“I’m not sure if Republicans will have the majority in the House and the Senate,” he said. “There will be more people (in the state) voting Republican than Democrat, though.”

The new districts will mean more competitive races, said Lauren Caldwell, director of the Montana Democratic Party’s legislative campaign committee.

“Neither party has a lock on who is going to control either chamber based on redistricting,” she said. “It’s absolutely either party’s game.”

Another factor that may play into the primary elections is the rift that emerged in the 2013 legislative session between conservative and more moderate Republicans. Some Republican incumbents involved in that dispute are now facing challenges June 3.


Supreme Court justice Jim Rice will face a challenge in his re-election campaign from Billings attorney W. David Herbert, who previously ran as a Libertarian candidate for U.S. House in Wyoming.

Montana Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke has filed a challenge to Justice Mike Wheat, who is running for re-election.

Multiple candidates also have filed to run in the nonpartisan elections in judicial districts in Sidney, Polson and Billings. Five people are running for the Billings judgeship being vacated by Judge G. Todd Baugh, who is retiring after coming under fire for comments he made that a teenage rape victim “appeared older than her chronological age.”


Three Republicans and one Democrat are running to take the place of Chairman Bill Gallagher, who is not running again because of pancreatic cancer. The GOP candidates to be on the panel that regulates state utilities are former Secretary of State Brad Johnson, former state Rep. Derek Skees and John Campbell of Kalispell, who twice has run unsuccessfully for the commission.

State Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh of Helena is the Democratic candidate.

Republican Travis Kavulla did not have an opponent for his re-election bid by Monday afternoon.