Democrat Monica Tranel won a decisive victory in her Western congressional district primary Tuesday night, while the Republican primary between frontrunners Ryan Zinke and Al Olszewski remained undecided shortly before midnight.
The primary is the first for the Western congressional district following reapportionment in response to Montana’s population gain recorded in the 2020 U.S. census.
The Montana secretary of state had tallied 41% of the vote for Zinke and 39% for Olszewski at 11:40 p.m., with 66 of 307 precincts fully reporting. After swapping leads late into Tuesday evening, neither Republican had conceded their race at the time of publication.
“I’m honored and excited by our strong showing tonight,” Olszewski said in a statement late Tuesday night. “This is a very close race and with Lincoln County not reporting tonight due to a technical issue it is clear we won’t know who won tonight. I look forward to an open and transparent count. We’re cautiously optimistic we will emerge from that count victorious.”
Zinke campaign spokesperson Heather Swift also expressed confidence about the upcoming results in an emailed statement.
“We’re looking forward to the Election Day vote totals. Our volunteers worked hard, made tens of thousands phone calls and knocked thousands of doors to get out the vote,” Swift said.
On the Democratic ballot, Tranel’s victory was clear-cut. In her victory speech near 10 p.m., Tranel expressed gratitude for her supporters and campaign staff and said she looks forward to the general election campaign.
“This is about you,” Tranel said at an election party at the Union Club in Missoula. “This is about Montana, the Montana we all love. It’s my name on the ballot, but this is our race … This is our chance to have our voice heard in Congress.”
Tranel’s win came from wide margins in nearly every county in the district. Bozeman nonprofit executive Cora Neumann, who led the Democratic field in fundraising with more than $1.3 million in contributions, finished in distant second place with less than 30% of the vote as of late Tuesday night.
“This campaign has been one that I am so incredibly proud of,” Neumann told supporters in Bozeman after conceding the race just before 10 p.m. “There is nothing about this race we would have changed … Tonight I’m asking everyone to join me in supporting Monica Tranel to fight for what makes Montana so special.”
Who holds the keys to Montana’s Western congressional seat?
The nine candidates in Montana’s new Western congressional district — a jagged ‘C’ encompassing Glacier County, Kalispell, Missoula, the Bitterroot Valley, Butte and Gallatin County — are as ideologically varied as the population they seek to represent. Which candidate can unlock House District 1’s political identity?
The tight margin in the Republican race came after months of Olszewski, a Kalispell surgeon and former state senator, battering Zinke for his allegedly insufficient conservative record. Zinke, a former U.S. congressman and Interior Secretary endorsed by former President Donald Trump, avoided directly engaging with Republican competitors until recent weeks, when he began rebutting Olszewski’s barbs and defending his record in the Trump administration and in Congress.
“Not a word Al Olszewski says is true,” one recent Zinke campaign ad claimed. “Al Olszewski, no one believes you.”
Zinke raised just shy of $3 million during more than a year of campaigning. As of the most recent finance reports filed in mid-May, Zinke has spent roughly $2 million of his haul, including approx $174,000 on television and radio advertising in May alone.
Olszewski, comparatively, raised $710,000 over the course of his campaign and spent about $533,000. His campaign paid more than $100,000 for television and cable advertisements in May, as well as $44,000 on mailers.
Tranel, a Missoula attorney who ran as a Democrat for the Public Service Commission in 2020, raised $882,000 according to May’s campaign finance reports. She spent roughly $784,000 in the same period, largely on advertising and media production, including more than $110,000 for advertisements in May alone.
The general election is on November 7.
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