Stage set for high-profile Montana races after primaries

Montana State Capitol
Posted at 6:46 PM, Jun 05, 2024

HELENA — In both the race for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat and the race for governor, the incumbents easily cleared their primary elections Tuesday – and general election opponents who’ve sharply criticized them also moved on.

In the Senate race, incumbent Sen. Jon Tester secured 97% of the vote in the Democratic primary, over political newcomer Michael Hummert. On the Republican side, Gallatin County businessman Tim Sheehy won almost 75% of the vote, to 19% for former Secretary of State Brad Johnson and 7% for 2022 U.S. House candidate Charles Walking Child.

The results set up what’s expected to be one of the most watched and most contentious races in the U.S. this year, with control of the Senate potentially on the line. The two men have already been focusing on each other in their advertising, with tens of millions of dollars spent so far – and much more likely between now and the general election in November.

Tim Sheehy
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy speaks at the Tri-County Republican Candidate Roundup at the Kleffner, near East Helena, Apr. 14, 2024.

Sheehy held an election night event Tuesday in Gallatin Gateway. Afterwards, his campaign released a statement from him.

“Joe Biden and Jon Tester’s reckless agenda has brought us skyrocketing food, housing, and energy prices and an open border allowing illegal immigrants, drugs, and crime to flood into our country,” Sheehy said. “As a Navy SEAL, I’ve always put country before self and I’m running for U.S. Senate to end Joe Biden and Jon Tester’s inflation, seal our border, secure our children’s future, and put America First! I am humbled and honored by all the support and look forward to finally retiring the #1 recipient of lobbyist cash and pro-Biden liberal Jon Tester.”

Jon Tester
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester speaks at the Montana Democratic Party's Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner in Helena, Mar. 2, 2024.

Tester’s campaign held an election watch party in Bozeman. Tester himself was in Washington, D.C., but delivered remarks virtually. His campaign also shared comments he made during an appearance on MSNBC, in which he accused his opponents of trying to change Montana’s values – and trying to make him something he’s not.

“We will push back,” Tester said. “We will tell the truth. We will talk about my record of accomplishment in the United States Senate during my tenure. And we’ll talk about my vision for this country moving forward, whether it’s making sure we live up to the promise to our veterans, or making sure that we’re doing everything we can do to get everybody connected to broadband across this country, including rural and frontier areas of Montana.”

In the race for governor, incumbent Gov. Greg Gianforte received 75% of the Republican primary vote, to 25% for state Rep. Tanner Smith. Former firearms executive Ryan Busse won the Democratic nomination with 71%, against attorney Jim Hunt, who received 29%.

Ryan Busse
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ryan Busse speaks during a news conference at the Montana State Capitol, Apr. 2, 2024.

Busse has been on the offensive against Gianforte since launching his campaign, and he announced a statewide TV ad campaign criticizing him starting on Wednesday.

“Tonight Republican voters sent a clear message to New Jersey billionaire Greg Gianforte: the last three-and-a-half years have been a trainwreck under his failed leadership,” Busse said in a statement released by his campaign after the polls closed. “And that's unfair to trainwrecks. Montanans got stuck with Gianforte's higher property taxes, his housing crisis, his health care crisis, less access to public land and wildlife, and his attacks on women's freedoms. It's time to get your Montana back."

Greg Gianforte
Gov. Greg Gianforte at his home in Helena, Jan. 16, 2024.

Gianforte’s campaign released a statement from him Tuesday night, promising “strong, steady, conservative leadership” and to push back against Biden.

“This fall, Montanans face a clear choice,” Gianforte said. “We can continue with our positive momentum and common sense conservative agenda, or we can turn the reins over to unhinged, unpredictable far-left activism that’s out of touch with Montana and will undermine our way of life. The choice is clear, and I look forward to continuing to meet with Montanans where they live and work to make our case.”

There will also be third-party candidates on the general election ballot in each of these races. Green Party candidate Michael Downey, drought program coordinator for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, led Robert Barb 62%-38% in a contested primary for U.S. Senate. Libertarian Senate candidate Sid Daoud and gubernatorial candidate Kaiser Leib didn’t have primary opponents and moved on automatically to the general election.