(UPDATE, 11 p.m.) Mike Cooney and Greg Gianforte will face off in November's general election, as they won their respective primary elections on Tuesday in the race to become Montana's next governor.
As of 11 p.m., Cooney has about 55% of the Democrat vote in the primary; his opponent Whitney Williams has about 44%. On the GOP side, Gianforte has earned about 53% of the vote, with Tim Fox at 27% and Al Olszewski at 19%.
Cooney, who was Governor Steve Bullock's running mate four years ago against Gianforte, gave a statement to MTN News on the November contest: “We ran against Mr. Gianforte in 2016. We know what he’s going to do. He’s going to try to buy this thing and I don’t think Montanans are going to put up with that. I think they want to keep control of their elections. They want somebody with the leadership and experience, who can hit the ground running from day one, and that’s exactly what we’re prepared to do.”
Gianforte released this statement: “I’m grateful for the overwhelming support we received throughout this campaign from every corner of our state. I want to thank my friends, Tim and Al, who ran spirited campaigns. I appreciate their commitment to public service, and I look forward to working with them to build the kind of Republican unity we need to win in November,” Gianforte said.
“As we face these challenging times, I hear from Montanans over and over again that we need a new course, that we need a proven business leader in the governor’s office – one who’s created high-paying jobs here in Montana and one who understands our Montana way of life. I’ve spent my life creating jobs, solving problems, and serving others. It’s what I know how to do, and it’s what I want to do for Montana as your next governor. On day one, I’ll roll up my sleeves and start working so we can get our economy going again, get Montana open for business, and get Montanans back to work in good-paying jobs. I look forward to a campaign of ideas and to continuing to focus on our positive, hopeful vision for our state. I know our best days are ahead of us,” Gianforte said.
(1st Report) Montana voters are choosing the Republican and Democratic nominees for governor in Tuesday’s primary election, setting up a fall showdown for an open seat.
U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, Attorney General Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski are competing for the Republican nomination, while Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and Missoula businesswoman Whitney Williams are squaring off for the Democratic nod.
Libertarian Lyman Bishop of Kalispell and Green Party candidate Robert Barb of Billings also will be on the ballot this fall.
Republicans are trying to capture the governor’s office for the first time in 16 years, while Democrats hope to extend their hold on a seat they’ve held since 2005.
The seat is open because Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is barred by term limits from running for a third consecutive term.
Gianforte, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist from Bozeman, spent $1.5 million of his own money on his campaign, through mid-May, and raised a total of $3.6 million – almost five times as much as his nearest Republican competitor and well past either Democratic candidate.
When asked about his substantial investment in the campaign, Gianforte told MTN News last month he was “all in for Montana.”
Fox, an early entry into the race in 2019, is coming off eight years as attorney general. The Hardin native was first elected to that seat in 2012 and re-elected in 2016, and could not run for re-election because of term limits.
Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon and state senator from Kalispell since 2017, has advertised himself as the only military veteran in the race. He also ran for U.S. Senate in 2018, coming in fourth in a four-way primary.
Cooney, appointed by Bullock as lieutenant governor in early 2016, has been Montana’s secretary of state and a state senator from Helena. Originally from Butte, Cooney also has worked as an aide to former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus and an administrator in state government.
Williams, a first-time candidate, runs a business that designs and manages philanthropic work for corporations and individuals. She is the daughter for former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams and former state Sen. Carol Williams.