(MTN News-HELENA) Republican Brad Johnson dropped out of the 2016 Montana governor’s race Wednesday, saying he doesn’t feel he has the time to wage a full-time campaign.
Johnson, 64, the chairman of the state Public Service Commission, said when he got into the race last September, he wasn’t sure whether Bozeman businessman Greg Gianforte would be running.
Gianforte, a multimillionaire tech entrepreneur and philanthropist, announced last week he’s running as a Republican for governor. He had become an “exploratory candidate” last August.
Johnson told MTN News Wednesday morning he hadn’t counted on waging an expensive primary election campaign against a well-funded Republican.
“I’m not willing to take that much time away from the PSC,” Johnson said. “Given that choice, I need to honor the people who elected me.”
Johnson won election to the five-member PSC in 2014, representing the district that includes Helena, Polson, Kalispell and the Rocky Mountain Front. The PSC regulates electric, gas, telephone and water utilities.
One other Republican still remains in the race for governor: Mark Perea, an antique and collectible dealer from Helena.
Perea told MTN News Wednesday he plans to stay in the race, although he hasn’t yet filed to become an official candidate.
The winner of the Republican primary election in June will take on Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who’s running for re-election to a second term.
Johnson said he still thinks if the GOP primary for governor were held now, he would win – but that it would take a very active campaign to win a contested primary in June.
“When I announced, there wasn’t even another candidate in the race,” he said. “And you don’t know what that other campaign is going to look like.”
Gianforte had raised more than $500,000 by the end of 2015; Johnson had raised only $1,500.
Johnson, of East Helena, was Montana’s secretary of state from 2005-2008, losing a re-election race to Democrat Linda McCulloch.