HELENA — Republicans swept to victory in every statewide contest in Montana on Tuesday, from U.S. Senate to attorney general to superintendent of public instruction, as a record number of voters turned out to be more red than blue.
Republican U.S. Senator Steve Daines turned away a multimillion-dollar challenge from outgoing Democratic Governor Steve Bullock, and Daines' 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 in Congress, defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and Libertarian Lyman Bishop.
State Auditor Matt Rosendale won Gianforte’s seat in the U.S. House, defeating Democrat Kathleen Williams to keep the seat Republican for the 24th straight year.
Republicans also won open seats for attorney general, state auditor, and secretary of state; held on to superintendent of public instruction, and easily maintained majorities in the state Legislature.
By early Wednesday morning night, about 581,000 ballots had been returned, smashing the old record of about 517,000 in a general election for Montana. Additional votes cast Tuesday at polls and county election offices may push the final total higher. The turnout stood at 77 percent early Wednesday.
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. He led Democrat Joe Biden 55 percent to 43 percent, with as many as 100,000 votes still uncounted.
In the other top races, Daines led Bullock 53 percent to 47 percent, Gianforte led Cooney 53 percent to 44 percent, and Rosendale led Williams 54 percent to 46 percent.
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.
The Daines-Bullock matchup is one of a half-dozen Senate contests nationwide where Democrats thought they could win a Republican seat and perhaps gain majority control of the U.S. Senate. The race has attracted donors from every state in the nation. Bullock entered the race just seven months ago, after saying he wouldn’t, and both his campaign and its allies have outspent Daines and Republicans by almost $30 million.
In the governor’s race, Gianforte won the seat four years after initially 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.