HELENA – Bozeman business executive Steve Daines won the Republican primary Tuesday night in the race for Montana’s open U.S. House seat, while state Sen. Kim Gillan of Billings staked out a solid lead in the seven-person field in the Democratic primary.
With more than 56 percent of the precincts partially reporting, Daines led big in the three-way Republican primary with 72 percent of the vote, beating out Eric Brosten of Helena, who had 17 percent, and Vincent Melkus of Hardin, who had 10 percent.
Gillan led the Democratic primary with 31.5 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, followed by state Rep. Franke Wilmer of Bozeman at 19 percent.
The winner of the two primaries will face off this fall for Montana’s only U.S. House seat, which is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican who’s running against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Libertarian David Kaiser of Victor also will be on the fall ballot in the House race.
Daines, at an election party in Missoula Tuesday night, said he’s anticipating a “positive, upbeat, issue-oriented campaign” against the Democratic nominee, and that he’ll continue talking about a “pro-growth agenda and how we get this economy moving forward again in America and also in Montana.”
“I’m looking forward to talking about the issues that we know Montanans care most about, and that’s going to be jobs and the economy and the huge debt our federal government has accumulated the last several years,” he said.
Daines, whose campaign slogan is “more jobs, less government,” also emerges from the primary with about $750,000 in campaign funds, while his Democratic opponents will have less than $100,000.
Gillan, reached in Billings Tuesday night, said she felt good about the campaign going into election day, because she’d spent many days and hours talking with and listening to “literally tens of thousands of voters.”
“We’ll wait for all of the votes to come in, but I like the way things have been going,” she said.
Gillan, who represents the Billings Heights in the Legislature, said Montanans want someone who will be a strong voice for them in Congress who believes in their priorities.
“Certainly that’s what I’ve done, and that’s what I’ll continue to do if I get elected to the U.S. House,” she said.
Gillan also said she’s not daunted by Daines’ led in campaign funds: “In Montana, the money doesn’t determine who’s going to win.”
Whitefish attorney and entrepreneur Diane Smith was running third in the Democratic primary at 14.7 percent, Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier was fourth at 14.6 percent, followed by Billings real estate broker Sam Rankin at 11 percent, Hardin farmer and tribal construction manager Jason Ward at 5 percent and Helena attorney Rob Stutz at 3 percent.
Daines, who’s been campaigning for 18 months, faced only token opposition from Brosten, an engineer who talked mostly about the Star Wars missile defense system, and Melkus, a U.S. Marines Corps veteran and college student.