Missoula attorney Monica Tranel will represent Democrats in the general election for Montana’s U.S. House race in the western district.
On the Republican side, former congressman and Trump Cabinet member Ryan Zinke had eked ahead of former State Sen. Al Olszewski as of 11:30 p.m., but the race was too close to call. About 70% of all votes were in by 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, and three counties had not reported any results, according to the New York Times.
In the Democratic contest, Tranel broke an early lead and counted 67% of the vote as of 11:30 p.m. She not only dominated her home county, Missoula, with 72% of the vote, she also took 59% in Gallatin County, opponent Cora Neumann’s home turf.
Both public health expert Neumann and former state lawmaker Tom Winter conceded to Tranel early in the race and threw their support behind her as the candidate heading into the general.
“Thank you to all of you. This is about all of you. Thank you for showing up, for doing the hard work … We are going to make Montana Democrats proud to be Montana Democrats,” Tranel told a crowd of supporters in Missoula, according to video from MTN News.
On the Republican side, the race was much tighter.
In 2016, Zinke won a U.S. House race by 16 points, but Tuesday, he and former State Sen. Al Olszewski took turns pulling ahead after polls closed. As of 11 p.m., each had gathered around 40% of reported votes, according to the Montana Secretary of State.
Zinke’s opponents have called attention to multiple ethical complaints filed against the former Navy SEAL during his time in the Department of Interior, which he resigned from in 2018.
Roughly three hours after the polls closed, Olszewski dominated Flathead County, his and Zinke’s territory. He had 49% of the votes there to Zinke’s 29%. Further away from home, Zinke was pulling in more votes, with some 44% in Gallatin County and 47% in Missoula County.
As Wednesday approached, neither candidate conceded, according to statements to the Montana Free Press.
“I’m honored and excited by our strong showing tonight. This is a very close race and with Lincoln County not reporting tonight due to a technical issue it is clear we won’t know who won tonight. I look forward to an open and transparent count. We’re cautiously optimistic we will emerge from that count victorious,” Olszewski said in a statement.
Zinke’s camp also expressed confidence.
“We’re still feeling confident. Montanans know bull when they see it. We’re looking forward to the Election Day vote totals. Our volunteers worked hard, made tens of thousands of phone calls and knocked thousands of doors to get out the vote,” Zinke’s campaign manager Heather Swift said in a statement.
On Twitter, former longtime Montana political journalist Chuck Johnson predicted the count in the neck-and-neck race could spill into Wednesday.
Montana is a red state, and Tranel, a mom, a two-time Olympian, and a lawyer, acknowledged the road ahead in the general: “This will be a big big challenge; we are up against corporate money, we are up against corruption,” she said to the crowd.
The Western Congressional District is new — stemming from census results that gained Montana an extra seat and split the state into eastern and western districts. The western district spans 16 counties, including Missoula, Flathead and Gallatin counties.
In the primary, Zinke also went up against Matt Jette, a high school and college teacher, pastor Mary Todd and general contractor Mitch Heuer.