The rancorous race between Mike Cooney and Mary Jo Fox for Senate District 26 ended with a bang, as the former secretary of state won with a more than 2-1 margin.

Democrat Cooney's finished with 5,314 votes, compared to 2,487 for the Republican Fox.

The race pitted Cooney, who was secretary of state for 12 years before an unsuccessful bid to become Montana's governor in 2000, against Fox, who was a first-time candidate and former key adviser and campaign manager for former Gov. Marc Racicot.

Democrats held the hotly contested seat for 20 of the past 24 years, with term limits forcing out Democrat Mignon Waterman.

Fox was on the offensive during much of her Senate campaign, accusing Cooney of not taking a stand on issues and using the secretary of state's equipment for his political campaigns. In turn, Cooney filed a complaint with the state commissioner of political practices, accusing Fox of using a forged letter as part of a newspaper ad in an effort to mislead voters.

Although he's run four times for statewide offices and twice for the statehouse, Cooney said this was easily the toughest campaign of his political career. The race also was among the costliest senate contests in Montana, with Fox spending about $50,000 and Cooney's expenses hovering around $25,000 at last count.

"The intensity, the personal attacks leveled during the campaign, the amount of money that had to be raised and spent all made for a difficult campaign," Cooney said late Tuesday night. "It wasn't what I thought it would be about when I signed up for the campaign.

"On the other hand, we stuck to our game plan. I suspect we were outspent, but that's fine when you can see that money wasn't a factor in this race. I tried desperately to keep the campaign on a high level and I think I did, without running any negative ads or getting personal."

He spent election day at his job as executive director of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, and expects to be back at work there again today.

But he noted that one of his upcoming duties is to travel to communities throughout Montana - to talk to new legislators about children's issues.

"There's not really any time to sit back and take a break," he said.

House District 53

Incumbent Democrat Christine Kaufmann emerged as the winner over Republican Bob Robinson by 2,097 votes to 1,175 votes.

Kaufmann is co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network. During her campaign, she said she favors increasing revenues to fund services for low-income seniors and children, as opposed to cutting more state programs. Those may include increasing taxes on cigarettes, gambling and alcohol sales, or possibly a sales tax geared toward out-of-state visitors.

House District 55

Republican incumbent Dave Lewis was the victor in his race with Democrat Vivian Drake in this West Helena Valley District.

Lewis garnered 2,401 votes, to Drake's had 1,610. Lewis is one of the foremost authorities on state finances, having served as budget director for governors of both parties. He also served as majority vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, chairman of the Human Services Budget Subcommittee and as a member of the conference committee on the budget bill during the 2001 session

House District 54

Another one-term incumbent, Democrat Hal Jacobson, scored a 2,871 to 1,005 victory over his opponent, Republican Kyanne Kelly.

During his first term, Jacobson served on the Education, Local Government and State Administration committees. He lists education, tax reform, economic stimulus policy and rising energy costs among his legislative priorities.

House District 52

Incumbent Dave Gallik, a Democrat, finished with a total of 2,810 to 1,345 over Republican challenger John Stelter.

Gallik, said he hopes to establish an agricultural small business incubator, and widen the selection process for jury pools beyond registered voters to include anyone with a driver's license. He also favors a false claims act in Montana to crack down on defrauding the government, and a wholesale tax on the sale of power to out-of-state buyers.

House District 51

Political newcomer Jill Cohenour upset one-term incumbent Gilda Clancy to become the new House District 51 representative, with 2,010 votes to 1,506 votes.

Cohenour, a Democrat, has worked for the state environmental laboratory as a chemist for the past 10 years. In interviews, she has said that she knows trimming can be done in state agencies, but unlike those who flatly promise to raise no taxes she wants to examine all options. One of her top priorities is to return state funding of public education to its previous levels to ease property tax burdens.

House District 50

With 73 percent of the precincts reporting Republican Rick Ripley was leading Wednesday morning with 1,714 votes, compared to Democrat Bradley Hamlett, 1,345 votes; Green Party candidate Greg Gordon, 157 votes; and Constitution Party's candidate, Timothy Sollid, 80 votes.

House District 39

Republican Scott Mendenhall took House District 39 with 2,362 votes, compared to Democrat Sam Samson's 2,051 tally. Mendenhall was a Jefferson County extension agent for 13 years and operates a medical business in Butte.

Senate District 28

With 95 percent of the precincts reporting Republican Sherm Anderson was winning over Democrat Joe Pennington, 3,139 votes to 2,813 votes. Pennington is a construction foreman and cattle rancher; Anderson owns the Mountain LLC logging company.

Senate District 20

Republican Duane Grimes walked away with this uncontested race, garnering 1,208 votes.

House District 40

In the area's other uncontested legislative race, Republican Daniel Hurwitz won his seat in House District 40 with 1,142 votes as of press time.

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