HELENA - Candidate filing for state offices in Montana’s 2018 elections kicked off Thursday at the Capitol, led by a half-dozen filers in the top two races on the ticket, U.S House and U.S. Senate.
Four of the five Democrats hoping to challenge Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte paid their $1,740 filing fee Thursday, including Lynda Moss, a former state senator from Billings who was first in line at 8 a.m. at the secretary of state’s office.
Moss said she plans to run a “grassroots campaign” involving Montanans of all backgrounds.
“I work at the grassroots and I plan to take my grassroots work to the halls of Congress,” she told MTN News.
Close behind her to file Thursday morning were Billings attorney John Heenan and former land-trust director Grant Kier of Missoula – the two Democratic U.S. House candidates who’ve raised the most money and been campaigning since last summer.
“I announced first, I wanted to take on Greg Gianforte, I wanted to represent Montana, (so) it was important for me to be here at 8 a.m. so I could file and be official,” Heenan said.
Former state Rep. Kathleen Williams of Bozeman became the fourth Democrat to file for the seat on Thursday – and two Republicans also filed to run in the primary for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Republican Troy Downing, a high-tech entrepreneur and businessman from Big Sky, filed first among the Senate candidates, and state Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell filed Thursday afternoon.
Downing, a first-time candidate, said he’ll be emphasizing his non-political background.
“I think America is hungry for people who’ve had success in the private sector, who’ve built companies, who’ve made payroll,” he told MTN News. “I think that’s important. … We’re tired of entrenched, career politicians who know how to do nothing outside of politics, nothing outside of government.”
Tester, Montana’s senior senator, is running for a third consecutive six-year term this year.
Thursday is the first day of a two-month period during which candidates can file to run for office in Montana this year. Those running for state offices file with the secretary of state; those running for local seats such as sheriff or county commissioner can file at county election offices. The last day for filing is March 12.
Secretary of State Corey Stapleton opened his office doors at 8 a.m., welcoming those waiting to pay their fee and officially become a candidate.
The race for Tester’s U.S. Senate spot and Gianforte’s House seat top the Montana ticket this election year.
Gianforte won the seat in a special election last May 25, succeeding Republican Ryan Zinke, who had resigned to become U.S. Interior secretary.
Five Democrats are competing for the nomination to take on Gianforte this year: Heenan, Kier, Moss, Williams and Bozeman attorney Jared Pettinato.
Kier announced later Thursday that he raised $248,000 in the final three months of 2018, pushing his overall total to $450,000. Heenan hasn’t released his year-end fundraising numbers, but they’re expected to be about $500,000.
The other Democrats in the race haven’t released any fundraising totals yet. Gianforte will be filing his latest report later this month.
Kier said Thursday he’ll tout his track record of working with all types of Montana when he directed the Five Valleys Land Trust, which arranges conservation easements on rural land in western Montana.
He said he’ll meet with all groups, regardless of where they stand on issues, to represent the entire state, and that Gianforte hasn’t been doing that.
“I don’t think he’s getting out and listening to Montanans, holding town hall meetings, listening to people on the ground – and not just the people who agree with him,” Kier said.
Williams said her political experience sets her apart from her primary opponents.
“My three terms in the Legislature gave me a strong, progressive advocacy and voting record, while also being honored by the Chamber of Commerce for my work with businesses,” she told MTN News.
Heenan said he’s running because Montanans need a representative who’s “going to stick up for Montanans, not do the bidding of corporations and the ultra-wealthy.”
As many as six Republicans have said they’ll run for the nomination to challenge Tester: Downing, Olszewski, state Auditor Matt Rosendale, former state District Judge Russell Fagg of Billings, business owner Ron Murray of Belgrade and financial adviser James Dean of Havre.
Dean’s wife, Sarah Dean, has said she’ll challenge Tester in the Democratic primary.
The 2018 ballot for state offices also features 125 contested legislative seats, two Supreme Court seats and two Public Service Commission seats.
Scores of candidates filed Thursday, but most of them did so electronically, via the Internet, rather than showing up in person at the Capitol.