Greg Gianforte locks up race as Montana’s next governor

Rep. Greg Gianforte was elected as Montana’s next governor, defeated Mike Cooney by 54% to 42% on Tuesday night. (Missoula Current file photo)

Republican Greg Gianforte handily defeated Democrat Mike Cooney in the state’s race for governor on Tuesday night, and pledged to address how business is conducted in Helena.

The race ran close for much of the evening though Gianforte slowly extended his lead, garnering 54% of the vote to Cooney’s 42% with most precincts counted.

“You’ve sent a loud message to Helena,” Gianforte told a crowd of cheering supporters during his victory speech. “After 16 long years of single party rule in the governor’s office, it’s time for Helena to change the way they do business.”

The Associated Press called the race shortly before 11 p.m., though Cooney declined to concede, calling it premature. He later congratulated Gianforte on his victory.

“There’s no doubt our priorities and our visions for Montana are different,” Cooney said. “I expect Mr. Gianforte to serve the state that we love with the best interests of all Montanans in mind.”

Gianforte, the state’s representative in the U.S. House, turned his attention to the governor’s office with Gov. Steve Bullock termed out. Bullock defeated Gianforte in the governor’s race in 2016.

Gianforte personally invested $7.5 million of his own money into the 2020 race, leading some to suggest he was buying his way into office.

“We need to defeat this invisible enemy that is COVID-19. We need to get our economy going again. We need to soberly address the state budget. We need to overcome the scourge of addiction and meth that’s ripping our families apart. And we need to reduce the burden on our hardworking families so they can prosper again,” Gianforte said.

Gianforte said Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras wasn’t “just going to be cutting ribbons, she’s going to be cutting red tap.”