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Top Montana election races set as candidate filing period closes

Montana State Capitol
Posted at 7:53 PM, Mar 11, 2024

HELENA — After an often-wild two-month filing period, we now have a clear picture of which major-party candidates will be running in Montana’s 2024 elections.

The candidate filing period opened January 11, 2024, and closed at 5 p.m. on March 11, 2024.



The Montana Secretary of State’s Office processed more than 440 filings – including more than 50 on the final day. Here is a closer look at how some of the major races are shaping up:

U.S. Senate:

The most-watched race in Montana this year will be for U.S. Senate, where Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is seeking his fourth term. The seat could end up determining which party controls the Senate, and it’s expected several hundred million dollars could be spent in this race.

In the race for the Republican nomination, three candidates ended up filing. The apparent frontrunner is Tim Sheehy, a business owner and Navy veteran from Gallatin County, who has secured endorsements from U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, the national Senate Republican campaign arm Daines chairs, former President Donald Trump and Gov. Greg Gianforte. After U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale dropped out of the race for Senate, he too encouraged GOP voters to get behind Sheehy. Sheehy’s campaign has touted recent polling, showing him within the margin of error in a race against Tester.

Also running for the GOP nomination is Brad Johnson, a former Montana Secretary of State and Public Service Commissioner from East Helena, who has sharply criticized state and national Republican leadership for putting their weight behind Tester instead of letting primary voters decide who the best candidate is. The third candidate is Charles Walking Child, of Helena, who ran unsuccessfully against Rosendale in the 2022 GOP primary for Montana’s eastern district U.S. House seat.

Tester also drew one challenger in the Democratic primary, a political newcomer named Michael Hummert, of Helena.

In addition, three third-party candidates filed – all in the last few days. Sid Daoud, chair of the Montana Libertarian Party and Kalispell city councilman, is running unopposed in the Libertarian primary, after a second candidate filed and then dropped out. Two candidates – Robert Barb of Darby and Michael Downey of Helena – filed to run in the Green Party primary.

U.S. House:

By far the most crowded race is for the 2nd District U.S. House seat, which is an open position after Rosendale announced last Friday that he wouldn’t seek reelection.

Eastern Congressional District

Four Republican candidates submitted their paperwork on the final day of filing. That brought the total number of Republicans running in the district to nine:

· State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, of Billings
· Billings pharmacist Kyle Austin
· State Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Ken Bogner, of Miles City
· State Auditor Troy Downing, of Helena
· Former state Sen. Ric Holden, of Glendive
· Former state Rep. Joel Krautter, of Billings
· Former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, of Billings
· Former state Sen. Ed Walker, of Billings
· Former DEA state supervisor Stacy Zinn, of Billings

Downing and Rehberg both filed in person at the Secretary of State’s Office. Bogner and Walker also filed Monday.

MTN’s research showed this appears to be the most choices voters have had in a single state-level primary since at least 2008.

Four Democratic candidates also filed:

· Retired pharmaceutical sales representative Ming Cabrera, of Billings
· Former state lawmaker John Driscoll, of Helena
· Montana Pride president and business owner Kevin Hamm, of Helena
· Broadus rancher and business owner Steve Held

The district covers most of central and eastern Montana, including Billings, Great Falls and Helena.

Western Congressional District

In the 1st congressional district, Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Whitefish and his 2022 Democratic opponent, Missoula attorney Monica Tranel, are both running again. Republican Mary Todd, a business owner and pastor from Kalispell who challenged Zinke in the 2022 GOP primary, also filed to run again. In addition, two Libertarian candidates – Dennis Hayes and Ernie Noble – are running.

That district covers western Montana, including Kalispell, Missoula, Butte and Bozeman.

Montana Governor's

Governor:

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte and Democrat Ryan Busse were the first to file with the Secretary of State’s Office, but an additional candidate filed in each party’s primary over the final four days.

Gianforte and Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras announced their bid for a second term in January, saying they had delivered on their promises to cut back unnecessary regulations and make Montana more business-friendly during their first term. Busse, a former firearms executive and now author and activist from Kalispell, launched his own campaign in September, criticizing Gianforte on issues like property taxes. He introduced attorney Raph Graybill as his running mate last month.

State Rep. Tanner Smith, R-Lakeside, announced plans to challenge Gianforte last year. He filed for the ballot just over an hour before the deadline, with Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci of Great Falls as his running mate. Smith has criticized the Gianforte administration for not being conservative enough and for their handling of adult-use marijuana sales and property taxes.

Jim Hunt, an attorney from Helena, filed to run in the Democratic primary on Friday. His running mate will be Jerry Driscoll, former executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO. Hunt told MTN he didn’t have strong objections to Busse, but he decided to put himself forward for the position because he was frustrated with Gianforte’s record and he thought two voices were better than one. He acknowledged there may be speculation he filed in order to allow Busse to raise more money – as Montana races have stricter fundraising limits if a candidate is unopposed in the primary – but denied that was why he entered.

A Libertarian ticket also filed on Monday, with Kaiser Leib running for governor and Matt Campbell running for lieutenant governor.

Montana Supreme Court
The entrance to the Montana Supreme Court chambers in Helena.

Montana Supreme Court:

Two positions are open on the Montana Supreme Court: chief justice and an associate justice. Incumbents Mike McGrath and Dirk Sandefur are not running again.

Three candidates filed for each position – meaning the top-two vote-getters in each primary will move on to the general election.

For chief justice, former federal magistrate judge Jerry Lynch and Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson had already announced runs. They were joined last week by attorney Doug Marshall.

District court judges Katherine Bidegaray of Sidney and Dan Wilson of Flathead County were the previously announced candidates for the associate justice position. On Monday, Jerry O’Neil, a former Republican state lawmaker from Columbia Falls, also filed to run.

Montana State Capitol

Land Board:

In the four statewide executive offices known as “Land Board positions” – all currently held by Republicans – two incumbents are running for reelection, and two of the seats are open.

Attorney General Austin Knudsen, of Culbertson, is seeking a second four-year term. He is facing a challenge from Democrat Ben Alke, an attorney from Bozeman. On Monday, another Republican, Logan Olson of Helena, also filed for the GOP primary.

Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, of Helena, is not facing a Republican primary challenger. Jesse James Mullen, a newspaper publisher from Deer Lodge, is the only Democratic candidate for secretary of state. Additionally, John Lamb, a farmer from Norris, filed to run as a Libertarian.

The state auditor’s office was left open after Downing filed to run for Congress. Four Republicans will be running in the primary for that position: Public Service Commissioner James Brown of Dillon, state Rep. Steve Gunderson of Libby, John Willoughby of Winston, and Keith Brownfield of Miles City. One Democratic candidate also filed: John Repke, a retired finance executive.

There will also be a new superintendent of public instruction, as Arntzen was term-limited. Two Republicans are running to succeed her: Townsend Public Schools Superintendent Susie Hedalen and Harrison Public School Superintendent-Principal Sharyl Allen. State Sen. Shannon O’Brien, a former educational administrator, is the Democratic candidate.