HELENA — Republicans engineered a political red wave in Montana Tuesday, sweeping to decisive victories in every statewide contest Tuesday on a day when voters turned out in record numbers.
Republicans not only won statewide, but also picked up seats in the Legislature to pad already-large majorities and won all three contested seats for the state Public Service Commission.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., turned away a multimillion-dollar challenge from Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, and his friend and former boss, Greg Gianforte, easily won the governorship, becoming the state’s first GOP governor in 16 years.
Gianforte, the state’s current U.S. representative, defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney 54 percent to 42 percent. Libertarian Lyman Bishop won 4 percent of the vote.
State Auditor Matt Rosendale won Gianforte’s congressional seat, defeating Democrat Kathleen Williams, 56 percent to 44 percent, to keep the seat Republican for the 24th straight year.
Republicans also won open seats for attorney general, state auditor and secretary of state and held on to state superintendent of public instruction.
By late Wednesday, more than 593,000 votes had been tallied, smashing the old record of about 517,000 in a general election for Montana.
The turnout stood at nearly 79 percent by Wednesday afternoon.
As expected, President Donald Trump easily won Montana – but appeared to be rolling up a bigger margin than predicted by several polls in the past few weeks, beating Democrat Joe Biden 57 percent to 41 percent.
Daines defeated Bullock by more than 57,000 votes, 55 percent to 45 percent, overcoming a tidal wave of spending by Bullock and his Democratic allies. They outspent Daines and Republicans by as much as $30 million.
At his election-night party in Bozeman, Daines alluded to the high price-tag of the contest, which was one a half-dozen targeted by Democrats as a possible pickup in their battle to gain control of the U.S. Senate.
“And I’m grateful that the good common sense, the good horse sense of Montanans didn’t listen to all that out-of-state money from (Senate Democratic Leader) Chuck Schumer butting into Montana,” he said.
Gianforte said Tuesday night that voters sent a clear signal that they want a change in the state’s direction.
“You made your voices heard,” he said. “You said you wanted a leader who could get the economy going again. A leader to get Montanans back in good paying jobs. A leader who will protect our Montana way of life and a leader who will change how we do business in Helena.”
And while Montana voters installed conservatives in statewide offices, they also approved two ballot measures that will legalize recreational marijuana in the state.
The contest between Daines and Bullock drew the most attention, and money, of any race, as spending on the race shattered all Montana records for a single campaign. More than $160 million, or twice the previous record, has been spent on the battle, including $70 million raised just by the candidates.
In the governor’s race, Gianforte won the seat four years after losing to Bullock. The co-founder of a successful software-development company, Gianforte said his business experience would help boost Montana’s economy.
He spent $7.5 million of his own money on his campaign.
Williams lost the congressional race despite outraising Rosendale by $2 million. The former state legislator from Bozeman lost an attempt for the same seat to Gianforte in 2018 by five percentage points.