Dozens of candidates slipped in under the filing-deadline wire Monday, the final day to become a candidate in Montana’s 2012 election — including six people running for an open governor’s seat.
Gunning for everything from a seat at the state Legislature to the U.S. Senate, 76 people paid their filing fees at the secretary of state’s office before a 5 p.m. deadline, setting up one of the state’s busiest election seasons in years.
The field of gubernatorial hopefuls closed out at 11 people, as did the race for Montana’s open U.S. House seat.
And, Montana’s high-profile U.S. Senate contest gained another unexpected entrant Monday: Libertarian Dan Cox of Hamilton, setting up a rare Libertarian primary contest on June 5, with fellow Libertarian Jerry McConnell of Missoula.
The two heavyweights in the Senate contest — incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg — have already paid their $1,740 filing fees to run for the seat.
Sixty-four people filed Monday to run for the Legislature, where 126 seats are at stake — 26 in the state Senate and all 100 seats in the Montana House.
Republicans currently control the Legislature, with a 28-22 edge in the Senate and a 68-32 majority in the state House.
Yet Democrats hold all but one of Montana’s statewide offices, all of which are up for election this year. Here’s what the field looks like in the major statewide races:
Seven Republicans, two Democrats, one Libertarian and an Independent will battle it out for this position, which is open because term limits bar Gov. Brian Schweitzer from running for re-election.
Attorney General Steve Bullock, the leading Democratic candidate for governor, paid his filing fee Monday — as did a surprise Democratic entry, Heather Margolis, the director of a Helena nonprofit group.
Republicans Jim Lynch of Kalispell and Bob Fanning of Pray also filed Monday, as did Libertarian Ron Vandevender of Cascade and Independent Bill Coate of Bozeman.
Lynch, a former state director of transportation under Schweitzer, named as his running mate a Kalispell surgeon, Al Olszewski, while Fanning chose Joel Bonier.
Lynch and Fanning rounded out a Republican field which also features former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill, former state Sens. Corey Stapleton of Billings and Ken Miller of Laurel, security consultant Neil Livingstone of Helena, and Chouteau County Commissioner Jim O’Hara.
Tester and Rehberg are expected to square off this fall, along with the winner of the Libertarian primary. Rehberg also faces nominal opposition in the GOP primary on June 5 from Terry farmer Dennis Teske, but is a heavy favorite to advance to the fall showdown with Tester, in one of the most-watched U.S. Senate races in the country.
Eleven people are vying for the open seat being vacated by Rehberg, including seven Democrats, three Republicans and a Libertarian.
The Democrats are state Sen. Kim Gillan of Billings, state Rep. Franke Wilmer of Bozeman, real estate broker Sam Rankin of Billings, Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier, Hardin contractor Jason Ward, Whitefish businesswoman Diane Smith and Helena lawyer Rob Stutz.
The Republicans are Bozeman business executive Steve Daines, Helena engineer Eric Brosten and Hardin student Vincent Melkus. Libertarian David Kaiser also is in the race.
Four people are running for this post being vacated by Bullock. Republicans Tim Fox, a Helena attorney, and state Sen. Jim Shockley of Victor will compete in the GOP primary; Helena attorneys Pam Bucy and Jesse Laslovich square off in the Democratic primary.
Montana Supreme Court
Justice Brian Morris, up for re-election, faces a challenge from Bozeman attorney Hertha Lund, while three people are competing for the court seat being vacated by retiring Justice James Nelson: Elizabeth Best, a Great Falls attorney; District Judge Laurie McKinnon of Choteau; and Missoula lawyer Ed Sheehy. The top two vote-getters in the primary will advance to the general election.
Monday also saw candidates file to run for Public Service Commission seats, secretary of state and clerk of the Supreme Court.