HELENA – The ballots weren’t even cool Tuesday night before Matt Rosendale’s campaign was calling the run to unseat Senator Jon Tester "the Battle of the Flattops".
But what will be the highest-profile race in the state — with attention across the US — is bound to be about more than haircuts. MTN News Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison has a recap of the US Senate contest and the other races headed for November.
In the state’s top two primary contests Tuesday – one result was as expected, but the other – not so much.
Former state lawmaker Kathleen Williams of Bozeman was the surprise winner of the Democratic U.S. House primary – capturing a five-way race with 34% of the vote. She edged Billings attorney John Heenan by about 2,000 votes and now faces Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte in the fall.
“We were so thrilled to be the nominee and ready to move forward in the general election against Gianforte," said Williams who won the primary despite being outspent at least 3-to-1 by her top competitors.
In the Republican U.S. Senate primary, state Auditor Matt Rosendale was the favorite going in – and came out on top, also with 34% of the vote, in a four-way contest. His closest competitor was former District Judge Russ Fagg of Billings who had 29%.
Rosendale now faces off against incumbent Tester and he wasted no time before going after him Tuesday night, "if we let Jon Tester and the liberals seize control of the United State Senate, they will undo all of the progress that we’ve made.”
Tester says he’s ready to rumble and is looking forward to the campaign’s first scheduled debate which will take place on Sunday, June 17th in Whitefish.
Voters also decided a pair of Public Service Commission primaries on Tuesday.
Andy Shirtliff of Helena easily won the Democratic primary in western Montana’s District 5 – and takes on PSC Chairman Brad Johnson this fall.
Former Great Falls legislator Randy Pinocci won a four-way Republican primary in PSC District 1 in northern Montana. He bested state legislator Rob Cook and two others – and will run against Democrat Doug Kaercher of Havre.
In legislative races – only one incumbent went down Tuesday: Sen. Pat Connell of Hamilton, who lost a GOP primary to Jason Ellsworth, also from Hamilton.
However, Republican state Rep. Mike Hopkins of Missoula won his three-way primary by only four votes and may face a recount.
Turnout was also strong on Tuesday at 41% of registered voters casting ballots – well above the usual non-presidential-year primary average of about 33%.
And, one last thing: The Trump factor. We know the president will play a role, in the outcome of Montana’s general election this fall. But it’s far too early to guess what that influence may, or may not be.