In one of the most competitive primaries in recent state history, former Whitefish State Sen. Ryan Zinke edged out his four Republican opponents vying for Montana’s lone U.S. House race and advanced to the November general election to face Democrat John Lewis.
Lewis, a former state director for former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, handily defeated John Driscoll, the former Montana House Speaker, Public Service Commissioner and perennial state legislative candidate who in 2008 won his party’s nomination to the House, despite raising no money – a move that also defined his effort against Lewis, who prevailed with 60 percent of the votes, or 42,316 to Driscoll’s 28,408.
The David-versus-Goliath contest saw Lewis raise more than $755,000, while Driscoll swore off accepting campaign donations.
In the crowded GOP primary, Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, defeated four conservative Republican opponents – state Sens. Elsie Arntzen and Matt Rosendale, former state Sen. Corey Stapleton and Helena businessman Drew Turiano, who repeatedly attacked Zinke’s political stances as being too moderate or, in some cases, liberal.
Still, Zinke prevailed with 33 percent of the votes, or 43,552, with his closest opponents, Stapleton and Rosendale, trailing with 38,511 and 37,924, respectively.
Zinke also emerged as the candidate who raised the most money, benefiting from the support of Special Operations for America, a political action he founded prior to launching his campaign. He distanced himself from the Super PAC before announcing his decision to run for Congress.
As of last month, Zinke had raised nearly $1.2 million and had about $150,000 cash on hand. Rosendale had similar figures, raising about $1.16 million, including a $1 million personal loan to his campaign.
On Tuesday, voters selected party nominees for the U.S. Senate and House, as well as 125 state legislative seats. The ballots also included 11 judicial races and two Public Service Commission positions at stake.
The Senate race was at the top of the ticket, with U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and incumbent U.S. Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., handily winning their party’s nominations by wide margins.
Daines’ decision to run for the Senate seat vacated by Baucus caused a political sea change in Montana, creating a wide-open race for Montana’s House seat while defining the Senate race as one of the most important contests in the country.
Republicans need to convert six seats in order to gain majority control of the Senate.
In Flathead County, the centerpiece state legislative race for Senate District 4 featured a battle between former Kalispell Mayor Tammi Fisher and House Speaker Mark Blasde, who ran away with the win, gathering 1,725 votes, or 66 percent, compared to Fisher’s 867. Blasdel will face Democrat Elizabeth Cummings in the general election.
The race between Blasdel and Fisher stood out among a half-dozen state Senate districts with contested Republican primaries between competing factions within the party.
In the open SD 4 seat that encompasses much of Kalispell’s city center, Blasdel, of Somers, is more conservative than Fisher by a wide margin.
Still, Blasdel touted his experience in the House, leadership and ability to work toward solutions as qualities that appeal to Montana voters.
“My true style of quiet leadership and working to find solutions while also maintaining my principles will continue,” he said. “Obviously, you have to stand on your beliefs and stand on serving the voters so you continue to stand on those principles, but I have also shown that we can find solutions. I have a great working relationship with a lot of the members and I have the true benefit of having worked with so many members of the House that will help me continue to be effective.”
Blasdel spent about $28,000 out of nearly $34,000 raised, while Fisher campaigned with about $10,000.
In Kalispell’s House District 7, former Kalispell Police Chief Frank Garner defeated political newcomer Ronalee Skees to win the Republican primary, raking in 74 percent of the vote.
Garner will go on to face Democrat Catie Henderson in the November election. Henderson defeated Alex Schaeffer on a 56-43 percent margin.
In Whitefish, Doug Adams prevailed in the House District 5 Republican primary with 66 percent of the vote, while John Michael Myers received 33 percent. Adams will advance to a general election race with the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Ed Lieser, who was unopposed in the primary election.
In a tight race for the House District 11 seat, Dr. Albert Olszewski edged out insurance agency owner Mike Hebert on a 52-48 percent margin. In November, Olszewski will face Democrat Kim Fleming, who was unopposed in the primary.
In House District 13, which includes Sanders County, as well as Kila and Marion, Thompson Falls resident Bob Brown beat Katy Walton in the Republican primary with a 67-33 margin.
In the November election, Brown faces Democrat Weylin Achatz, who defeated Gerald Joseph Cuvillier in the Democratic primary race with a 53-44 percent margin.
Click here to view all the results from the 2014 primary.
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