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Montana Candidate Filing Deadline Filled With Surprises

An "I Voted" sticker.
Montana Secretary of State

We now know what Montana’s primary ballots will look on June 2. Monday marked the final day for Montana candidates to file for office. 

NICKY OUELLET, Yellowstone Public Radio: Corin, what sticks out?

CORIN CATES-CARNEY, Montana Public Radio: Montana Governor Steve Bullock jumping into the U.S. Senate race was definitely the headliner of the deadline, although lots of other candidates filed to run for public office all across the state.

But Bullock changed the entire landscape for the Senate race. Just as a reminder, first-term incumbent Republican Steve Daines is up for re-election this year. National and state Democrats saw Bullock as someone who could give Daines a competitive race.

Before Bullock got in there was a full slate of other Democrats hoping to challenge Daines. But Bullock’s entrance has just about cleared the entire deck. Cora Neumann, Mike Knoles and John Seckinger from Bozeman all dropped out. Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins also dropped.

John Mues, a Navy Vetran and engineer from Loma, is the only Democrat staying in the race.

He told me earlier today he’s staying in the race even though he thinks Bullock will likely become the nominee

“I think that’s the purpose in a democracy of our primary system, is to explore exactly where people stand. Simply electing a Democrat is inadequate,” Mues said.

NO: Is there a primary on the Republican side for Senate?

CCC: Daines faces two Republican primary opponents. Daniel Larson, a hardware store owner from Stevensville, is running. Also John Driscoll from Helena is running as a Republican. We should note here he ran as a Democrat for the U.S. House in 2008.

NO: And on top of the two major party scramblings, the Green Party squeaked onto the ballot Friday, though it’s a little unclear who collected the signatures needed to get the party into this election cycle.

CCC: Break that down a little bit more.

NO: New this year, groups that wanted to spend money to get a minor political party onto the ballot had to file paperwork so we knew who was paying. Club For Growth, a conservative political action committee with fundraising ties to state Auditor Matt Rosendale’s U.S. House Campaign, filed paperwork earlier this year to collect signatures to get a minor party on the ballot. But they later said they wouldn’t follow through. Democrats have said putting the Greens on the ballot, who tend to back environmental policies similar to Democrats, would pull votes away from Democratic candidates.

CCC: That’s the same political theory we hear with Libertarian candidates sometimes drawing voters from Republicans. Are the Greens fielding any candidates in 2020?

NO: A Facebook post from earlier this month said they hadn’t planned to even be on the ballot but several Green Party candidates have filed to run this year.

That includes Wendie Fredrickson from Helena. She’s a former audit reviewer with the state health department. She’s going to be running for U.S. Senate. She told the Independent Record she’s running to call out Bullock’s performance in office. And then Dennis Daneke is a retired professor from Missoula College. He lives in Lolo. He’s also running on the Green Party ticket for U.S. Senate.

CCC: What about in the U.S. House race?

NO: John Gibney of Hamilton is a Green Party candidate for U.S. House. The party denounced him in 2018 for remarks he made at a Missoula refugee rally that party officials called bigoted. He was running for a state House seat out of Ravalli County.

Gibney joins a pretty crowded field for U.S. House. Democrats running for that seat are former state legislator Kathleen Williams and current Missoula lawmaker Tom Winter. Republicans running are Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, state Auditor Matt Rosendale, former head of the Montana Republican Party Debra Lamm, Mark McGinley with Montana Youth Challenge from Dillon, John Evankovich, an electrician from Butte, and Joe Dooling, a Helena-area rancher.

CCC: That’s a long list.

NO: It sure is. Looking down ticket, what else sticks out to you, Corin?

CCC: Going back to the Green Party, there are now candidates running under the Green Party banner for governor and attorney general. Common political thinking suggests Green Party candidates could tap into the Democratic Party’s voting base, so those candidates will be interesting to watch when we get past the June 2 primary.

NO: Libertarians Lyman Bishop and John Nesper are also running for Governor. That should be an interesting race with four parties.

CCC: I was also interested to see the current head of the Public Service Commission Brad Johnson filed to run in the Republican primary race for Secretary of State. PSC is the state agency that regulates utility companies like NorthWestern Energy.

NO: Is Johnson’s term up?

CCC: No. Johnson is eyeing leaving his position as chair of commission early. His term doesn’t end until 2023. Johnson has run for secretary of state before and was elected in 2004. He joins a crowded Republican field this time around with five other Republicans running for the job.

NO: Anything else?

CCC: The state auditor primary caught my eye. Helena attorney Mike Winsor filed as a Democrat over the weekend. That sets up a primary between himself and Shane Morigeau, a state House Representative from Missoula.

Libertarian Roger Roots from Livingston also entered the auditor race before the deadline.

NO: Phew. That’s a lot. Anything we forgot?

CCC: Top of the ticket. For president, Montanans will choose between Democrats Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Elizabeth Warren has suspended her campaign but she is still filed to be on the ballot. For Republicans, President Donald Trump faces Bob Ely of Illinois and Rocky De La Fuente from San Diego, California.

NO: Montana’s primary is June 2.


Corin Cates-Carney is the Flathead Valley reporter for MTPR.