U.S HOUSE MT-01
Republican Ryan Zinke is on track to return to Congress, this time in Montana’s newly created western U.S. House district, though a small handful of counties have yet to fully report their results and the standings could change.
Zinke leads the pack with 115,714 votes and 86% of the vote counted, according to the New York Times. Energy attorney Monica Tranel, a Missoula Democrat, sits in second with 104,720 votes. John Lamb, a Norris farmer running on the Libertarian ticket who Republicans have worried could play spoiler to Zinke, is in third with 8,838 votes.
Tranel held a moderate lead for most of Election Night, but successive updates from Zinke’s home county of Flathead tilted the needle the other direction through the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Flathead County still has 11% of its votes outstanding, according to a New York Times estimate. Populous Gallatin County, which has supported Tranel so far, has yet to report 14% of its votes. Blue-leaning Glacier County, which overlaps with the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, has yet to report 27% of its votes.
Tranel said on Twitter Wednesday morning that she and her team are still holding out for final results.
“Every vote matters and we thank the election officers for ensuring that,” she said.
Montana has had only one U.S. House district since the 1990 U.S. census, but regained a second seat following the 2020 count. The western district, created by the 2020 Districting and Apportionment Commission, includes 16 counties and two Native American reservations. President Donald Trump carried what would become the western district by 7 points in 2020.
At a crowded election-night watch party at Casey’s in Whitefish, Zinke was shaking hands and clinking glasses until just after midnight last night, but did not make any public statements.
Tranel, meanwhile, was rubbing shoulders with fellow Democrats — including half a dozen state lawmakers — at the packed Union Club in downtown Missoula. Shortly after 9:30 p.m., with no results yet in sight, she took the stage alongside her family to thank those gathered for their support. When Montana first secured a second seat in Congress, she said, she knew it was an opportunity for the state to elect a representative who “truly reflects the Montana that we all know, the Montana we all love, the Montana that I grew up in.”
The party quieted down after Tranel left around 11 p.m., and results were still trickling in.
U.S. HOUSE MT-02
Republican Matt Rosendale, the current representative of Montana’s at-large U.S. House seat, is on track to win the race for the state’s eastern congressional district, though the contest remained too close to call as of midnight.
With half of the vote tallied, Rosendale had notched 63,035 votes as of midnight, good enough for almost 58% of the vote, according to the Associated Press.
In second, with 22,791 votes, is independent candidate Gary Buchanan. And in third is Democratic former Billings City Council member Penny Ronning, with 21,942 votes. Pulling up the rear is Libertarian Sam Rankin with 1,464 votes. Yellowstone County, the state and district’s largest, had yet to report any results as of publication time.
Buchanan, reached by phone late Monday, acknowledged that he had a lot of ground to make up but said it would be premature to concede. Ronning could not be reached for comment.
MONTANA SUPREME COURT
As of 12:30 a.m., Supreme Court Justice Ingrid Gustafson was showing a 12 percentage point lead in her race against James Brown, private attorney and Republican president of the Public Service Commission. The other incumbent running to retain his seat on the court, Justice Jim Rice, held a roughly 56 percentage point margin over Billings attorney Bill D’Alton.
Brown appeared to be easily outperforming Gustafson in some rural counties, but the race between the two was tighter in medium and larger counties, with Gustafson in the lead. The incumbent held onto margins in Flathead, Gallatin, Lake, Lewis and Clark and Park counties as of late Tuesday night and was about three points behind Brown in conservative Ravalli County. The incumbent dramatically outperformed Brown in Missoula County, leading with 74% of the vote, or more than 17,000 votes, according to unofficial results.
Some other large counties, Yellowstone and Cascade, were not yet reported at the time of publication.
MONTANA HOUSE & SENATE
As of midday Wednesday, Montana Republicans looked likely to win supermajority control of the Montana Legislature. According to a MTFP staff count, preliminary results published by the Montana secretary of state saw voters give the GOP at least 65 of 100 seats in the Montana House and 34 of 50 seats in the Montana Senate, with an additional five races too close to call.
Republicans had narrow leads in partial returns for most of those five races. If any settle on the GOP side of the ledger, the party will win at least 100 of the state’s 150 legislative seats, enough for Republican lawmakers to put proposed amendments to the Montana Constitution before voters even if those proposals face united opposition from Democrats.
Democrats were on track Wednesday to pick up two swing seats in the House — House District 93 in northwest Missoula, as well as Havre’s House District 28 — but had lost at least one other seat in the state’s lower chamber, the majority-Native House District 41 in southeast Montana.
Democrats also failed to pick up any Republican-held swing seats in Great Falls and yielded two Great Falls-area Senate seats to Republican control. All seven Great Falls-area House seats and four Senate seats appeared likely to be represented by Republicans heading into next year’s legislative session.
Kyle Schmauch, a staff spokesperson for legislative Republicans, celebrated Republican wins in an emailed statement Wednesday, saying the party was on track to win a “historic supermajority.”
“Republican lawmakers are ready to ramp up their efforts to provide Montanans with financial relief, strengthen our economy, protect our freedoms, and preserve the Montana way of life in the upcoming session,” he wrote.
Montana Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Director Scott McNeil said in an interview Wednesday that many Democratic candidates had outperformed their party’s showing in the 2020 presidential election, though in some cases not by enough to win districts that skewed heavily Republican then.
“We’re disappointed with some of our losses and we’re excited about some of our tough wins,” McNeill said. “We go into the legislative session prepared to work with Republicans on common issues and disagree and stand up and hold them accountable when needed.”
Democrats last held a majority of seats in the Montana Senate in 2007, and of the Montana House in 1991.
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION
In the race for an open seat on the state’s utility regulation board, retired Whitefish executive John Repke, a Democrat, posted a strong showing in Lewis and Clark County early on in the evening, but a late-evening results release out of Flathead County gave Republican Ann “Annie” Bukacek a 1,107-vote lead as of 12 a.m. Wednesday.
Throughout the night, Bukacek, a Kalispell physician, has led Repke in Teton and Lake counties, both of which are more rural and decidedly more Republican-leaning than Lewis and Clark County.
Approximately 29,000 votes were reflected in the initial counts produced by Flathead County, which is home turf for both candidates and the most populous county in the slice of western Montana that comprises District 5.
The District 5 winner will replace termed-out commissioner and former PSC chair Brad Johnson. The PSC has remained an exclusively Republican body for more than a decade. Montana voters haven’t sent a Democrat to the PSC, which regulates monopoly utility companies in the power, water, garbage and telecommunications space, since 2008.
District 1 incumbent Randy Pinocci was uncontested in the general election after defeating GOP challenger K. Webb Galbreath in the primary. His district comprises a vast swath of northern Montana, including much of the Hi-Line.
Also of note is the overlap between the PSC race and the Montana Supreme Court race. Current PSC chairman James Brown is running for a seat on the state’s highest court. If he’s successful in that bid, Gov. Greg Gianforte will have an opportunity to name a replacement to serve on the PSC. As of 12 a.m. Wednesday, the incumbent justice, Ingrid Gustafson, led Brown by about 12 percentage points in that race.