HELENA — Republican former Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke won a seat that Republicans have held on to since 1997 by defeating John Lewis, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.
Republicans aimed to retain the seat after one-term U.S. Rep. Steve Daines left to run for U.S. Senate, which he won Tuesday night.
Zinke, the 53-year-old former Navy SEAL commander and state senator, made his military service the focal point of his campaign. He spent 23 years in the Navy which included time on SEAL Team 6. The 53-year-old from Whitefish also served in the Montana Senate from 2008 to 2012.
Zinke said when he gets to Congress, he intends to listen and be a champion for rural Montana which he said is often overlooked. He’ll ask to join the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Natural Resources, he has said.
“I plan to hit the ground running and will work to control government spending, grow the economy, and promote energy independence,” Zinke said.
Zinke has said he plans to do a lot of listening and he’ll work with anyone in the House whose goal involves fixing the country.
The Democrats brought John Lewis as their candidate, who stepped out of the shadow cast by longtime boss, former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, to run in his first race. Lewis of Helena spent 12 years as a political aide to Baucus, serving as field organizer for Baucus’ 2002 re-election campaign and eventually becoming state director.
The 36-year-old Lewis had been making the case that he was the Democrat to take back the House seat.
“People are proud of the campaign we’ve run,” Lewis said. “Somebody said to me, an older woman, ‘you ran a campaign that we’ve been waiting for someone to run, on issues,'” he said.
Lewis released policy ideas on more than a dozen issues including promoting access to health care, creating jobs and reforming Congress.
The Zinke and Lewis campaigns were shaped by issues such as managing public lands, the Affordable Care Act, energy, and women and families.
Zinke’s campaign tried to paint Lewis as a Washington, D.C., insider because of his career with Baucus. The Zinke camp repeatedly accused Lewis of writing at least some of the Affordable Care Act because Baucus was the bill’s main sponsor. Lewis adamantly denied that claim.
Democrats filed a complaint against Zinke for receiving support from the political-action committee he founded, the Special Operations for America. They also called for him to release his full military records, which he did less than one week before Election Day. His records showed glowing performance reviews with just one revealing Zinke exhibited lapses in judgment related to travel expenses.
The third candidate in the race was Libertarian Mike Fellows.
Following his acceptance speech in Whitefish, Zinke told the Beacon:
“I’m humbled. And now the work begins. I’ll do my duty and my duty is to make sure that I represent not just the people who voted for me but also to represent the people who did not. And the challenge for the Republican party is to make sure that we create a vision for what we plan to do, articulate the challenges ahead and show the American people that we are capable of leadership and governing. We have to evolve from a party of ‘no’ to a party of ‘go’.”