Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula voters narrowed the field of five mayoral candidates to two on Tuesday night, setting the stage for a November showdown between a political newcomer and a tenured member of City Council.

Incumbent City Council member and businessman Mike Nugent and nonprofit director Andrea Davis earned the top two spots by a healthy margin in the final batch of returns. Davis secured just over 9,000 votes while Nugent garnered 5,700 in Tuesday night's returns.

The three other candidates included sitting Mayor Jordan Hess, who had 3,260 votes. Shawn Knopp had earned 2,420 votes and Brandi Atanasoff had 212 votes.

Roughly 18,800 ballots had been cast compared to 54,700 registered Missoula voters, suggesting a lackluster showing in a primary that determines the city's next mayor.

Davis, a political newcomer, expressed both confidence and thanks in Tuesday night's outcome.

“Given the early returns, I'm thrilled,” Davis told the Missoula Current on Tuesday night. “Boy, is Missoula excited about a change or what? I'm ecstatic and humble, and I'm ready to step up. The amount of energy and enthusiasm from this community has been extensive throughout my entire campaign.”

Davis praised her fellow candidates for running strong, clean campaigns. She also considered what the election numbers might suggest.

“Missoulians have confidence in me to lead Missoula forward,” Davis said. “That's what I think that means. I will work hard for the people who didn't vote for me. I want to make sure I'm everybody's mayor.”

Fellow candidate Mike Nugent also had a strong showing on Tuesday night. Over the past few months, he has delivered a message of priority spending, addressing the city's pressing needs, and acknowledging that taxation has become an issue for working residents.

“People are ready in Missoula to say Missoula is great, but we also have opportunities to meet the challenges that working families are facing,” Nugent said. “Dealing with the pinch of property taxes and feeling we have to balance the programs we want as a community – it's expensive to live here and it's getting more expensive. I've been a voice for that message and I think people see that.”

Nugent expressed confidence after Tuesday night's showing at the polls.

“I'm honored that people in Missoula believe in the message we're putting out,” he said. “Working men and women, and families, feel the pressure in Missoula and they need a voice. I'm excited to be in a campaign that represents that, because that's what we're living.”

Mayor Jordan Hess was gracious and equally humble on Tuesday night. He has served as mayor since the passing of former Mayor John Engen and has led the city through challenging times over the past year.

“I was proud to be able to step in and fill a need,” he said. “I was able to provide some stability and direction at a time when we really needed that.”

The Missoula Current will publish it's full interview with Mayor Hess on Wednesday.