Primary Recap: Rosendale to Challenge Tester, Williams Taking On Gianforte

Republicans and Democrats picked their nominees for local, statewide races on Tuesday

By Associated Press

Montana voters picked State Auditor Matt Rosendale to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and former lawmaker Kathleen Williams of Bozeman to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte in Tuesday’s primary election. Voters also nominated candidates to run in the general election for 38 contested legislative races, two Public Service Commission primaries and two district judge races. A look at the top races:


Propelled by more than $3 million from outside political groups, Rosendale triumphed over three primary opponents to secure the party’s nomination to take on Tester, the two-term incumbent.

The GOP has long coveted Tester’s seat and sees it as winnable after President Donald Trump’s wide margin of victory in Montana in 2016.

Rosendale, a former state legislator who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. House in 2014, says he’s the only one capable of beating Tester. Tester’s campaign has already dubbed Rosendale, who moved to Montana 16 years ago, “Maryland Matt” and says he’s being propped up by special interest groups.


Republicans have held Montana’s only U.S. House seat for more than two decades, but Williams says this is her party’s year.

Williams emerged from the field crowded with political newcomers to win the Democratic nomination. She says Gianforte is more vulnerable than past incumbents after he won a special election last year to fill Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s unexpired term.

Williams calls herself a progressive who is also business-friendly. She would be the first woman to hold Montana’s congressional seat since Jeannette Rankin left office in 1943.


With 125 House and Senate seats up for election this year, there were 38 contested legislative primary races decided on Tuesday.

One incumbent lawmaker was defeated by a primary challenger, state Sen. Pat Connell, R-Hamilton. Jason Ellsworth beat Connell in the three-way GOP primary and will face independent candidate Laura Garber in November’s election.

Eight other incumbents survived challenges by members of their own party. A ninth, state Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, held a very slim lead over challenger Derek Smith.

Republicans are looking to extend their streak of controlling both the Montana House and Senate to five straight legislative sessions, a feat that has been accomplished only twice before in state history.

Republicans now have a 59-41 majority in the House and a 32-18 majority in the Senate.


Two seats are at stake on the five-member Public Service Commission, which has been an all-Republican body since 2013.

The commission regulates investor-owned utilities that provide electricity, natural gas, water and landline phone service.

Department of Commerce employee Andy Shirtliff won the Democratic primary to challenge Chairman Brad Johnson in a district that stretches from Lewis and Clark County to the Canada border are three Helena Democrats.

Former state Rep. Randy Pinocci of Sun River won the four-way Republican primary to replace outgoing Commissioner Travis Kavulla as the northeastern commissioner. Pinnoci will meet Democrat Doug Kaercher of Havre in the general election.


Three district judgeships in the state had contested nonpartisan primaries in which the top two vote-getting candidates are moving on to the general election.

In Billings, Collette Davies and Thomas Pardy advanced from a field of five candidates running for a new judgeship created by state lawmakers last year over concerns of a judiciary overburdened by a high caseload.

In Butte, Robert Whelan and Samm Cox advanced in the race to replace retiring District Judge Brad Newman.

In Polson, incumbent District Judge Deborah Christopher and challenger Ashley Morigeau moved on to the general election after a three-way primary.

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