More than 300 Candidates File to Run for Montana Legislature Seats in 2024

Republicans running a candidate in every legislative seat up for election

By Blair Miller, Daily Montanan
The Montana State Capitol in Helena. Beacon file photo

Republicans will be on the ballot for every legislative seat in Montana this November, while Democrats were able to recruit more candidates this year than they could to run in 2022 as they hope to gain back some power after two years of a GOP supermajority.

The window for candidates to file for the 2024 primary with the Secretary of State’s Office closed at 5 p.m. Monday, giving Montana its first full look at who is running for offices including the state House and Senate, every statewide government elected office, a U.S. Senate seat, the Public Service Commission, several judicial seats, and both of Montana’s Congressional districts.

This November’s election will also be the first under newly redrawn legislative maps, which have shifted some districts, and also means some sitting lawmakers will have to compete in primaries against other sitting lawmakers.

Democrats have said the maps are fair and should bring them a few more seats two years after voters sent 68 Republicans to the state House out of 100 seats, as well as 36 Republican senators out of a body of 50. Republicans say while the maps don’t do their party any favors to hold the supermajority, they will be battling in every district.

When Republican Jason Ulrich of Malta filed for the House District 32 race late Monday afternoon, he filled out the roster of Republicans so there is one running in all 100 House districts and each of the 25 Senate districts up for election this year.

Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, who is the chair of the Montana Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, said having a candidate with an R next to their name in every legislative race was one of the committee’s top goals for this election cycle.

He said that after redistricting, some Republican seats have gotten redder, while Democratic seats have gotten bluer, and that made it difficult for both parties to recruit candidates in races where their party has historically done poorly. He said that local central Republican committees have done a good job of recruiting people to step up and run in those races.

“The local central committee and the local folks have really done a great job in Missoula to find candidates who actually know what Missoula is about, and what’s the concerns to those voters there,” Hertz said about running candidates in areas historically dominated by Democrats. “They’ll have more good candidates this time, too, in the Missoula area for voters to make a choice.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are on the ballot in 86 of the 100 House districts – 15 more than in November 2022 – and in 21 of the 25 Senate districts that are up for election this year after skipping out on seven Senate races in November 2022.

Democratic leadership on Monday echoed a similar sentiment of having a somewhat tough time trying to find candidates to run in areas dominated by Republicans. House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, praised local Democratic central committees, as well as Reps. Jonathan Karlen, D-Missoula, Jennifer Lynch, D-Butte, and Eric Matthews, D-Bozeman, for working hard the past several months to recruit more Democratic candidates statewide in the House, and Sens. Mary Ann Dunwell, of Helena, Ellie Boldman, of Missoula, and Denise Hayman, of Bozeman, for doing so in the Senate.

“I just want to say how excited I am about a really incredible slate of candidates, I think, from districts across the state. A lot of these folks have proven track records electorally in their districts. All of them have deep ties to the community. And they’re excited and motivated,” Abbott said.

At a press conference, she and Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, and House Minority Whip Katie Sullivan, D-Missoula, said they believe the new legislative maps — combined with what they said were policy failures by Republicans over the last two years on things like property taxes, health care, social issues and housing — will help them gain footing in both chambers this November and at least make it so Republicans do not have a veto-proof supermajority in both chambers.

Abbott said she believes Democrats can pick up eight to 10 seats in the House, while Flowers said he believes the party could pick up three to five seats in the Senate. Both said that closing the gap would be crucial if the Democrats want to develop Republican allies to try to ensure some of their own top policies, like keeping Medicaid expansion in place, move forward.

Flowers noted that Medicaid expansion passed by one vote in the Senate in 2019, and that picking up four or five Democrats in the Senate would mean they would only have to get five or six Republicans on board instead of 10, like they did last session, in order to pass a bill.

The three lawmakers identified several candidates by name they are excited are running, particularly in places like Cascade County, the Flathead, Gallatin County, Yellowstone County and Park County, where they hope to undo GOP wins from 2022.

The U.S. Senate race is expected to bring in tens of millions of dollars in donations and PAC money alone, which both Hertz and the Democrats said would be helpful in running the down-ballot races, along with the fact that every statewide elected office is on the ballot in November. In terms of messaging, Hertz said voters will likely be hearing similar things from Republicans at the top of the ticket all the way down the ballot.

“It’s all going to be similar. I mean, we’re looking at the economy, property tax issues, access to health care. Those are probably the big three topics that we’ll be focused on,” Hertz said. “The messaging will probably rely more on social media, I think, this election cycle than it ever had in the past.”

Flowers said having Democrat and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester near the top of the ballot is proven to bring out voter enthusiasm among Democrats and left-leaning independents, and that Tester himself as a former lawmaker will be highly supportive of candidates in the legislative races. But the Democrats plan to hit the pavement for their outreach, they said.

Sullivan thinks it’s likely voters will have national politics fatigue come fall and could be more receptive to door-knocking than anything else by that point.

“I think people still appreciate when you knock on their door and you say, ‘Well, I lived on this street and I’ve lived in your neighborhood for however many years, and I feel the same way you do about these issues, and I’m going to represent you,’” Sullivan said. “That is a bit of a breath of fresh air for people to have that national politics kind of swept away a bit and have a local conversation.”

There will be several highly contested primaries in both chambers, including several three- and four-way Republican primaries that will likely dictate the eventual winner in November in GOP-heavy districts. Six Libertarian Party candidates are running for legislative seats.

There are also several new open seats, as well as one that could be created after the election, since Senate President Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, late Monday afternoon filed to run for the Clerk of the Supreme Court seat in a primary against the sitting clerk, Republican Bowen Greenwood. Ellsworth is in the middle of his final Senate term after winning re-election in 2022.

In total, 444 candidates filed for the 2024 election, according to the office of Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen. Among the House and Senate races, there are 310 candidates who filed by Monday’s deadline.

This story originally appeared in the Daily Montanan, which can be found online at dailymontanan.com.