Keila Szpaller

(Daily Montanan) Late on Tuesday, Democrat Monica Tranel was in the lead in the western district for the U.S. House of Representatives, but the race was still too close to call, according to the New York Times and Washington Post.

Republican Ryan Zinke has been favored to win.

Shortly after 11:30 p.m., the New York Times had underdog Tranel ahead at 51 percent and Zinke down at 45 percent with 55 percent of the votes counted.

The Montana Secretary of State’s Office and the Times had Libertarian John Lamb taking 4 percent of the vote, which political analysts say could hurt Zinke.

The Secretary of State’s Office had Tranel in the lead with 53 percent of the vote to Zinke’s 43 percent but just 24 percent of precincts reporting and nothing yet from Flathead County.

The western district in Montana is new this year after the U.S. Census gave the state one more member in the House of Representatives.

It’s been Zinke’s race to lose, according to national political analysts; the former U.S. Navy SEAL won elections to serve in the U.S. House in 2014 and 2016 and was later appointed by former President Donald Trump as Secretary of the Interior.

But Montana analysts have seen weaknesses, and he’s faced an aggressive competitor in Tranel, a Missoula lawyer and former Olympic rower. In their first debate, she pulled the microphone out of his hand to tell him and the Missoula crowd that he had misrepresented her record.

Zinke also has faced hurdles, such as federal probes from his time as secretary, including a couple of reports that found he misled investigators. He’s also been hounded by questions about where he lives given his wife has a residence in Santa Barbara, California.

Political analysts have said the scandals might affect people’s enthusiasm to vote for the Republican, and that Lamb could siphon votes away from Zinke too. The Republican primary was closer than expected.

Data from previous elections show the new district is competitive.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, won the district by 10 points with a Libertarian on the ballot in 2018. In 2020, Democrat Steve Bullock lost to incumbent Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, by 1.44 points with no third-party candidate on the ballot.

Around 11:30 p.m., the Montana Secretary of State’s Office had just 24 percent of precincts fully reporting, and counting has been expected to continue into Wednesday.