Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines. Credit: courtesy photo

This story was updated at 9:50 a.m. on Nov. 4 to reflect the most current vote counts.

Republican Steve Daines has won an expensive race with national implications for U.S. Senate control on Tuesday, securing a second term after a tough campaign against term-limited Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

The Associated Press called the race late Tuesday night. As of Wednesday morning, Daines had secured 55% of the vote over Bullock’s 45%, with 94% of precincts reporting.

Speaking to supporters at a joint election night party with Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte, Daines said “the voice of Montana has been heard loud and clear,” before thanking volunteers and others who worked to elect him. 

“This election was unprecedented. We know that. We’ve never seen a political race of this size in Montana,” he said. “I’m grateful that the good common sense, the good horse sense of Montana, didn’t listen to all that out-of-state money from Chuck Schumer flooding into Montana.”

The campaign was among the most closely watched and tightest in the country, with political experts saying throughout that control of the Senate — which was in Republican hands with 53 of 100 seats before the election — could hinge on Montana and several other state’s races. The Cook Political Report ranked the race as a toss-up, and polling suggested a close race. 

Daines, who aligned himself with President Donald Trump throughout the last four years, has spent much of the campaign trying to convince voters that he would protect the “Montana way of life” and would act as a check on the power of “radical liberal” politicians. He frequently tried to nationalize the campaign, claiming Bullock would blindly follow Democratic party leaders, even if it meant voting against Montana interests. Bullock, on the other hand, tried to stress his independence, pointing to his passage of bipartisan legislation including Medicare expansion in a Republican-controlled state Legislature. 

In an emailed statement, Bullock conceded to Daines, congratulated him, and thanked his own campaign staff and volunteers. 

“I am not naive, but I am sufficiently idealistic enough to believe that Washington could work a lot better,” he said. “Montana has been a gift to me, and given me more than I could ever give back. I have been so grateful to have served as Montana’s governor and attorney general.”

When Bullock entered the race in March after a failed presidential nomination bid, political experts — given Bullock’s relative popularity and a history of Montana voters splitting party tickets — said Democrats had a realistic chance to flip the seat if Bullock could again draw Trump supporters, as Bullock did in 2016. 

That prospect drew a record amount of money into the race — more than $160 million. 

The incumbent Daines, a businessman who also previously served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, has campaigned on his support of recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, as well as opposition to the Affordable Care Act, a law he and other Republicans claimed to be a disaster. He also helped pass the Great American Outdoors Act, which permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

As Tuesday night came to a close, it appeared that Daines’ victory will help maintain the Republican majority in the Senate, which Daines said could mean “more justices like Amy Coney Barrett.” At the same time, Daines reaffirmed that he will protect Second Amendment rights, protect access to public lands and create jobs. He also said he was looking forward to working with Gianforte to address the COVID-19 outbreak in Montana. 

“We all know Montana is a very special place, and like you, I want to keep it that way,” he said.  “Let’s together get back to work.”

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Chris Aadland

Chris Aadland covers tribal affairs in Montana as a Report for America corps member based in Billings. Before moving to Montana he covered the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming for the Casper Star-Tribune, and has also reported for the Wisconsin State Journal. Contact Chris at caadland@montanafreepress.org and follow @cjaadland on Twitter.