Incumbents advance in City Council primary; newcomers secure chance in November

Election judges unpack ballots on Tuesday night, Sept. 10, 2019, during the Missoula City Council primary election. The election took place in three wards and narrowed the field of candidates heading into November. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Voters in three wards narrowed the field of Missoula City Council candidates on Tuesday night, sending two incumbents on to November’s general election while leaning heavily for a Democratic newcomer.

However, three members of “Team Liberty” also cleared the primary with second place showings, giving them a chance to bolster their message over the next two months in hopes of pulling a political upset.

Results were slow to come in and remain unofficial until the canvass.

“I feel pretty good about the results, and I’m not too surprised by them,” said Jesse Ramos, who recruited conservative candidates (dubbed “Team Liberty”) in hopes of changing the City Council. “But we have a lot of work to do, obviously.”

Ramos’ recruits, including Amber Shaffer in Ward 1, Drew Iverson in Ward 3 and Alan Ault in Ward 4, all notched second place finishes, earning at best half as many votes as the winners.

Shaffer picked up 624 votes compared to the 1,285 votes for incumbent council member Heidi West, who is seeking a second term. Elizabeth Weaver finished third in Ward 1 with 374 votes and won’t advance to November’s general election.

“I’m really excited and it’s been a lot of hard work,” said Shaffer. “It was eye-opening to me how much people were willing to share about their lives and struggles. I didn’t expect that.”

In Ward 4, Ault secured 875 votes, finishing a distant second to political newcomer Amber Sherrill, who garnered 1,607 votes, or nearly 60 percent of the returns.

Greg Strandberg finished a distant third in Ward 4 with 206 votes, our 7.6 percent. Both Ault and Sherrill earned a spot on November’s ballot, while Strandberg was eliminated from race.

“I feel good and I’m happy with the results,” said Sherrill. “I think all the door knocking I did paid off. I’m humbled by the level of support, and I’ll continue to do the door knocking. There’s still more to do.”

Ault was equally emboldened by Tuesday’s results, though he admitted he has ground to make up before November.

“I’ve got my work cut out for me,” he said. “I’ve got a tough opponent. I’ll get my word out about my message on lowering taxes and frivolous spending and hope that’s what the voters want.”

City Council incumbent Gwen Jones also secured a solid win on Tuesday night, earning 1,234 votes, or 70 percent of the total in Ward 3.

Conservative Drew Iverson notched a narrow second place win with 281 votes, edging out Dakota Hileman with 227 votes.

Jones and Iverson will advance to the November election, although Iverson garnered just 16 percent of Tuesday’s ballots.

As did Ramos on behalf of Missoula County Republicans, the Missoula County Democrats also recruited a field of contenders and stood firmly behind them.

Shortly after the first batch of results came in at 8 p.m., Chase Gay, vice chair of the Missoula County Democrats, and state committee manager Klaus von Stutterheim, expressed confidence in their candidates moving forward.

“Right now, there’s a certain voice in Missoula trying to make it seem as if Missoula is a bad place to live in,” said Gay. “The positive campaigns run by Gwen Jones, Amber Sherrill and Heidi West are showing in the results. People recognize positivity in the growth and prosperity in Missoula that will continue, and that’s why they voted for these candidates.”

Ramos also expressed confidence in his candidates, but admitted there is work to do if they hope to overcome Tuesday night’s wide margins.

“There’s quite a big vote gap for a couple of these candidates,” Ramos said. “The way we overcome that, we’ve got to get turnout. We have to get more people to the polls. We’re going to have to work harder to spread our message.”