With the results from Montana’s 2022 election rolling in following the close of polls Tuesday night, one way to make sense of how the will of voters across the state’s diverse political geography translates to electoral outcomes is to look at the results county by county.

Pieces of that geography are well-known to many Montanans. Historically liberal strongholds like Butte and Missoula, as well as emerging ones like Bozeman, consistently back Democratic candidates. Staunchly conservative bastions like the Flathead Valley and the agriculture-focused communities of the state’s north-central and eastern plains typically throw the balance of their weight behind Republicans. For decades, those and similar contours have shaped candidates’ paths to elected office and determined whether initiatives put before voters succeed or fail.

This year’s election was no different:

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Republican nominee, and Democrat Monica Tranel pulled support from their respective parties’ usual strong points in the state’s western congressional district.

Tranel picked up a net advantage of 16,600 votes in Missoula County and tallied more than 6,000 votes over Zinke in Gallatin County, both home to left-leaning college towns. Zinke, however, won a 12,400-vote margin in deep-red Flathead County as well as a 7,400-vote margin in Ravalli County south of Missoula, in addition to winning further margins in the district’s more sparsely populated counties.

With Democrat Penny Ronning and independent Gary Buchanan splitting the opposition vote, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale cruised to a comfortable 35-point victory in Montana’s eastern U.S. house district. Neither Ronning nor Buchanan won any of the district’s counties.

Rosendale’s victory margin included a nearly 9,000-vote lead over any of his challengers in Cascade County, around Great Falls, as well as a 17,600-vote margin in Billings, which both Ronning and Buchanan call home.

The two challengers combined, however, reduced Rosendale to a minority share of the vote in some parts of the district. In Helena’s Lewis and Clark County, Rosendale won only 43% of the vote, for example. In Big Horn County, which includes most of the Crow Reservation, he won 46%.

Support for candidates in the Montana Supreme Court race between incumbent Justice Ingrid Gustafson and GOP-backed challenger Jim Brown broke down largely along urban-rural lines. Brown won most of the state’s rural counties, as well as the typical Republican strongholds of Flathead County, where he picked up a net margin of roughly 3,700 votes, and Ravalli County, where he picked up a margin of 3,600.

Gustafson, though, picked up left-leaning urban counties, winning a nearly 22,000-vote margin in Missoula County and a nearly 12,000-vote margin from Bozeman’s Gallatin County. She also won a disproportionate share of support in the state’s traditional swing districts, including a 5,400-vote margin in Yellowstone County, around Billings, and a 2,500-vote margin in Cascade County, around Great Falls.

The Republican-backed LR-131, the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, was generally supported across most of rural Montana. It also won in Ravalli and Flathead counties, but by fairly slim margins of 2,800 and 2,900 votes respectively.

That support was outweighed by massive opposition in comparatively liberal urban counties. Missoula County voters, for example, opposed the measure by a 43-point margin, giving it more than 22,000 net opposition votes there. Gallatin County and Lewis and Clark County voters also came out heavily against the measure, by margins of 11,800 and 6,600 votes respectively.

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Eric DietrichDeputy Editor

Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.