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HELENA — Montana voters will have a hefty ballot to consider in 2020, packed with decisions about the U.S. presidential election, two of Montana’s three congressional seats, and five statewide offices including governor.
Even with more than a year until Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, Montana candidates aspiring and declared have begun jockeying for position in primary elections set for June 2, 2020. Keeping track can feel like herding cats. The round-up that follows can help.
Montana Free Press will keep this article updated as new candidates throw their hats in the ring in the coming months. And, hey, if you’re a Montanan planning a run and want to tip us off, send us an email.
The governor is the state’s chief executive, tasked with overseeing state agencies and proposing state budgets to the Montana Legislature. The governor also holds one of five seats on the Montana Board of Land Commissioners, which has authority over state trust lands.
Current Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, is termed out after two four-year terms in office — and has launched a campaign for president. Democrats have controlled the office since Gov. Brian Schweitzer was first elected in 2004.
Announced — Attorney General Tim Fox
Fox, wrapping up his second four-year term as Montana’s attorney general, announced his campaign for governor in January. Originally from Hardin, he has a University of Montana law degree and formerly worked as an attorney in private practice.
- MTN News / Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announces campaign for governor
- Lee Newspapers / Attorney General Tim Fox announces run for Montana governor
Announced — state Sen. Al Olszewski
Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon and state senator from Kalispell, announced his gubernatorial campaign in April. He previously ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018, placing fourth in the Republican primary.
Announced— U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte
Gianforte was the Republican nominee for governor in 2012, but failed to derail Gov. Steve Bullock’s re-election bid. Jumping into politics after founding and selling RightNow Technologies in Bozeman, he was elected to the U.S. House in the 2017 special election and re-elected to a two-year term in 2019. He was also convicted of misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter during his 2017 run. Gianforte filed to run for Montana governor a second time June 7.
- Glasgow Courier / Gianforte ‘Seriously Considering’ Run for Governor
- Lee Newspapers / Gianforte files to run for governor in 2020
Withdrawn — Former state Sen. Gary Perry
Perry, of Manhattan, filed as a gubernatorial candidate with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices April 10 and had his candidacy marked as closed by July 2019. He served as a state senator between 2002 and 2010.
Withdrawn — Secretary of State Corey Stapleton
Stapleton, currently Montana’s secretary of state, initially announced a 2020 bid for Montana governor but shifted his focus to the U.S. House race after incumbent U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte announced in June that he would run for governor.
Announced — House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner
Schreiner is a four-term representative who served in minority leadership in House in the 2015 and 2017 legislative sessions. He is termed-out of the House in 2020. Schreiner is a former science teacher who now serves as the director of the Montana State Workforce Innovation Board.
LISTEN: Montana Lowdown Podcast
- Democrat Schreiner campaigning to retain seat representing House District 26
- Guest opinion: Democrats delivered for all Montanans
Announced — Former state Rep. Reilly Neill
Neill, who represented Park County from 2013 to 2015, filed to run for governor as a Democrat June 8. A Livingston resident, she is also the editor of the arts and culture publication Montana Press Monthly.
Announced — Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney
Cooney, a former Montana legislator and secretary of state from Butte, has been Bullock’s lieutenant governor since 2016. He officially announced his campaign July 3.
Announced — Whitney Williams
Williams, of Missoula, announced her candidacy Oct. 3. She is the daughter of longtime Montana Congressman Pat Williams and Carol Williams, who was the first woman to serve as Montana Senate Majority Leader. She is also the founder and CEO of williamsworks, a Missoula-based philanthropic consulting firm.
Not running — Former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Michael Punke
Punke, who served as U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization in the Obama administration, is better known in Montana as the author of the novel “The Revenant,” which was adapted into the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. He lives in Missoula and, according to his LinkedIn profile, currently works as a vice president of global public policy for Amazon Web Services.
Punke had been named as a potential Democratic Senate or gubernatorial candidate, but said in a June 24 tweet that he wouldn’t seek election in the 2020 cycle.
Filed — Ron Vandevender
Vandevender, of Cascade, previously ran for governor in 2012 and has also campaigned for a seat in the Montana Legislature.
Two U.S. senators represent the state in the upper chamber of the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., each elected to six-year terms. Montana’s out-of-cycle senator, Democrat Jon Tester, is next up for re-election in 2024.
Announced — U.S. Sen. Steve Daines
Daines, who worked for Rep. Greg Gianforte as an executive at the Bozeman company RightNow Technologies, was Montana’s U.S. representative during the 2012 term, and was elected to the Senate in 2014. He has said he plans to seek re-election to a second term in 2020.
Announced — Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins
Collins, elected mayor of Helena in 2017, announced his bid for the U.S. Senate May 13. A Liberian refugee, he fled his home country’s civil war in the 1990s. Collins is thought to be Montana’s first black mayor since statehood.
Announced — John Mues
Mues, of Loma, said July 11 that he is running for the U.S. Senate. He is a Navy veteran and engineer who says he served as a nuclear submarine officer.
Announced — Cora Neumann
Neumann, of Bozeman, announced her candidacy Oct. 1. Raised in Bozeman, she has spent much of her career working in global public health. She also founded the Global First Ladies Alliance.
Filed — Michael Knoles
Michael Knoles, of Bozeman, filed candidacy paperwork with the Federal Election Commission Sept. 26.
Suspended — Jack Ballard
Ballard, of Red Lodge, announced his candidacy in July and, citing health problems, said he was suspending his campaign Sept. 13. A full-time writer, he is a former board member of the Outdoors Writers Association of America, according to the Billings Gazette.
- Lee Newspapers / Red Lodge author announces U.S. Senate bid
- Lee Newspapers / Red Lodge Democrat drops out of race for U.S. Senate
Potential — Gov. Steve Bullock
Bullock, who announced his bid for the U.S. presidency May 14, has repeatedly said he’s not interested in running for the U.S. Senate. Even so, some Democrats have urged him to challenge Daines, and with his presidential bid a long shot in a crowded Democratic field, his option to pivot toward the lower office remains.
- MTFP / Bullock launches long-shot presidential bid
- Politico / Dems plead with Steve Bullock to abandon White House bid for Senate
Not running — Former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Michael Punke
Montana has a sole delegate in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the U.S. Congress. Incumbent Rep. Greg Gianforte, first elected in a 2017 special election, has said he’ll run for governor in 2020 instead of seeking another house term.
Announced — Secretary of State Corey Stapleton
Stapleton, a former state senator, was elected secretary of state in 2016 and made unsuccessful primary bids for governor in 2012 and the U.S. House in 2014. According to MTN News, he has an engineering degree from the U.S. Naval Academy and previously worked as a financial adviser in Billings. He said in January that he would run for Montana governor, but switched his focus to the U.S. House after Gianforte announced his own gubernatorial bid.
- MTN News / Stapleton announces bid for governor
- MTFP / On the final day of GOP convention, Stapleton changes lanes, and Republican candidates for governor make their case
Announced — State Auditor Matt Rosendale
Rosendale, of Glendive, said June 17 he would run for the U.S. House. Elected state auditor in 2016, he made an unsuccessful run against U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in 2018.
Filed — Joe Dooling
Dooling, a rancher from the Helena valley and chairman of the Lewis and Clark County GOP Central Committee, filed paperwork June 24 to run for Montana’s U.S. House seat. He is the husband of state Rep. Julie Dooling.
Filed — Tim Johnson
Johnson, of Corvallis, is the superintendent of Corvallis Public Schools, according to the Associated Press. He filed July 3 to run for the U.S. House.
Announced — Former state GOP party chair Debra Lamm
Lamm, of Livingston, announced her intention Sept. 9 to seek the GOP nomination. She served in the Montana House during the 2015 Legislature.
Announced — Former state Rep. Kathleen Williams
Williams, a former state legislator from Bozeman, announced in April her second run for the U.S. House. While she came up 24,000 votes short in her attempt to unseat Gianforte in 2018, that margin was closer than any Democrat who has run for Montana’s U.S. House seat has come in more than a decade.
Announced — state Rep. Tom Winter
Winter, a freshman state representative from Missoula, announced his candidacy in April. He owns home health-care provider Interim HealthCare of Montana, according to Lee Newspapers.
Filed — Matt Rains
Rains, of Simms, says he is an Army veteran who currently owns a ranch. He filed July 1 to run for the U.S. House.
The state’s chief law enforcement and legal officer, the attorney general oversees the state Department of Justice, issues legal opinions interpreting state law, and acts as an advocate for the public interest in certain legal proceedings. The attorney general also serves on the state Land Board.
Incumbent Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican, is term-limited and has announced a run for governor.
Announced — Chief Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion
Bennion, currently a senior staffer in the attorney general’s office, announced his candidacy in February. Originally from Billings, according to Lee Newspapers, he has worked in the AG’s office since 2013.
Announced — Former Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen
Knudsen, an attorney from Culbertson, served eight years in the Montana House of Representatives, including four as one of the state’s youngest-ever speakers of the House. He announced his candidacy May 20. Knudsen, who was termed out of the House after four terms, was elected Roosevelt County Attorney in 2018.
Announced — state Rep. Kimberly Dudik
Dudik, who currently represents Missoula in the state Legislature, announced her candidacy in December.
Listen: Montana Lowdown Podcast
Announced — Raph Graybill
Graybill, currently the governor’s chief legal counsel, announced his candidacy in May.
Withdrawn — James Cossitt
Cossitt, of Kalispell, filed his candidacy paperwork in July and said he was withdrawing from the race in October. An attorney, he previously ran to represent Kalispell in the state Legislature in 2018.
- Missoulian / House District 7 candidate Q&A: Jim Cossitt (2018)
- Missoulian / AG candidate Cossitt drops out
Secretary of State
The secretary of state oversees Montana’s elections and manages state records, as well as serving on the state Land Board.
Current Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, a Republican, has announced a bid for the U.S. House.
Announced — Senate President Scott Sales
Sales, a state senator from Bozeman who has served in the Montana Legislature since 2003, said in March he would run for secretary of state. He served as state Senate president in the 2017 and 2019 legislative sessions.
Announced — state Rep. Forrest Mandeville
Mandeville, of Columbus, announced his candidacy in July. He has served in the state Legislature since 2015.
Filed — SOS Chief of Staff Christi Jacobsen
Jacobsen, of Helena, filed candidacy paperwork with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Oct. 4. She serves as the Chief of Staff for current Secretary of State Corey Stapleton.
Rumored — Public Service Commission Chairman Brad Johnson
Johnson, of East Helena, has been mentioned as a potential secretary of state candidate. He told MTFP in June that he was too busy with his work at the PSC, the state’s utility regulation commission, to give his political future much thought, but didn’t rule out a run. He previously served as secretary of state from 2005 to 2009.
Announced — state Sen. Bryce Bennett
Bennett, a state senator from Missoula, announced his candidacy for secretary of state May 29. He is the executive director of the Montana Public Interest Research Group, a University of Montana-affiliated policy nonprofit, and has served in the Legislature since 2011.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Heading the Montana Office of Public Instruction, the superintendent of public instruction oversees the state’s K-12 school system, much of which is governed directly by locally elected school boards. The superintendent of public instruction also serves on the state Land Board.
Announced — Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen
Arntzen, formerly a state legislator from Billings, was elected superintendent of public instruction in 2016. She said on June 11 that she will seek re-election.
Announced — Melissa Romano
Romano, an award-winning Helena teacher, was the 2016 Democratic nominee for superintendent of public instruction, losing to Arntzen. She said in April that she plans to take another shot at the job.
The state auditor, who also serves as commissioner of securities and insurance, runs the office responsible for protecting Montanans from fraud by regulating the insurance and securities industries. The state auditor also serves on the state Land Board.
Incumbent Matt Rosendale has announced a bid for U.S. House.
Announced — Troy Downing
Downing, a military veteran who ran in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2018, said June 26 he’ll run for state auditor in 2020.
Announced – Nelly Nicol
Nicol, of Billings, announced her candidacy in October. She has worked at Miles City-based Victory Insurance Company for more than a decade, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Announced — state Rep. Shane Morigeau
Morigeau, a state representative from Missoula, announced his candidacy for state auditor June 30. He is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and has a law degree from the University of Montana.
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