Democrat Monica Tranel won a decisive victory in her Western Congressional District primary on 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 after a redistribution in response to Montana’s population gain recorded in the 2020 U.S. Census.
Montana’s secretary of state had 41 percent of the vote for Zinke and 39 percent for Olszewski as of 11:40 p.m., with 66 of 307 precincts fully declared. After trading advances late Tuesday evening, no Republican had conceded their race as of press time.
“I am honored and excited by our strong performance tonight,” Olszewski said in a statement late Tuesday night. “It’s a very close race and with Lincoln County not showing up tonight due to a technical issue, it’s clear we won’t know who won tonight. I’m looking forward to a count open and transparent.We are cautiously optimistic that we will emerge victorious from this tally.
Zinke campaign spokeswoman Heather Swift also expressed confidence in the upcoming results in an emailed statement.
“We look forward to the vote totals on Election Day. Our volunteers worked hard, made tens of thousands of phone calls and knocked on thousands of doors to get the vote,” Swift said.
In the Democratic ballot, Tranel’s victory is clear. In her victory speech around 10 p.m., Tranel expressed her gratitude for her supporters and campaign staff and said she looks forward to the general election campaign.
“It’s 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 make our voices heard in Congress.
Tranel’s victory came from wide margins in almost every county in the district. Bozeman nonprofit leader Cora Neumann, who led the Democratic fundraising field with more than $1.3 million in contributions, finished in second place with less than 30% of the vote on Tuesday night .
“This campaign has been a campaign that I’m so incredibly proud of,” Neumann told Bozeman supporters after conceding the race just before 10 p.m. “There’s nothing about this race that we would have changed…Tonight, I’m asking everyone to join me in supporting Monica Tranel in her fight for what makes Montana so special.
Who holds the keys to the Montana Western Congress headquarters?
The nine candidates for Montana’s new western congressional district — a jagged “C” encompassing Glacier County, Kalispell, Missoula, Bitterroot Valley, Butte and Gallatin County — are as ideologically varied as they are the population they seek to represent. Which candidate can unlock the political identity of House District 1?
The tight margin in the Republican race came after months of Olszewski, a Kalispell surgeon and former state senator, beating Zinke for his allegedly insufficient conservative record. Zinke, a former US congressman and interior secretary backed by former President Donald Trump, avoided engaging directly with Republican competitors until recent weeks when he began to refute barbs of Olszewski and to defend his record in the Trump administration and in Congress.
“Not a word said by Al Olszewski is true,” claimed a recent Zinke ad campaign. “Al Olszewski, no one believes you.”
Zinke has raised just under $3 million over more than a year of campaigning. According to the latest financial reports filed in mid-May, Zinke has spent about $2 million of his run, including about $174,000 on television and radio advertising in May alone.
Olszewski, comparatively, raised $710,000 during his campaign and spent about $533,000. His campaign paid more than $100,000 for TV and cable ads in May, as well as $44,000 for mailers.
Tranel, a Missoula attorney who ran as a Democrat for the Public Service Commission in 2020, raised $882,000 according to May campaign finance reports. She spent about $784,000 over the same period, mostly on advertising and media production, including more than $110,000 on ads in May alone.
General elections are held on November 7.