Keila Szpaller

(Daily Montanan) One week before candidate filing closes, incumbent U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke had just one challenger in the Republican primary, Mary Todd, a pastor who was among four other people who tried to win the GOP nomination in 2022.

But Missoula Democrat Monica Tranel, who won the primary in 2022 but lost to Zinke in the general, also has filed for office, setting up a possible rematch if both candidates again win their respective party’s nominations.

In 2014 and 2016, Zinke, who lists an address in Whitefish, won at-large races for Montana’s only congressional seat. Former U.S. President Donald Trump tapped him to serve as Secretary of the Interior, and he was confirmed in March 2017. Zinke resigned in early 2019 in the midst of multiple ethics investigations — which he alleged were a witch hunt.

“D.C. is broken but I believe it’s fixable,” Zinke said in a social media post when he filed last month. “We need to expand the GOP majority in the House, flip the Senate and retake the White House. Let’s do this Montana!”

After the 2020 census, Montana earned a second U.S. House seat, and Zinke won the western Congressional district in 2022. He took 49.6% of the vote, Tranel took 46.5%, and Libertarian John Lamb took 3.9%.

Todd, of Kalispell, tried to win the GOP nomination in 2022, but she earned just 8,915 of the votes compared to Zinke’s 35,601. Although Zinke won, candidate Al Olszewski gave him a run for his money, pulling in 33,927 votes.

Two other candidates also made dents, and Zinke’s opponents collectively won 58% of the GOP votes in that district.

So far, Todd is the only Republican challenger to the incumbent. Her campaign website describes her as a small business owner, church leader and “unapologetic America-First conservative.”

“She will expose government corruption, vote ‘America First,’ and advocate for the everyday American,” her website says.

Tranel, a lawyer whose expertise includes energy, said she aims to be the second woman from Montana elected to Congress. Montana’s Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress in the country, was first sworn into office in 1917 and served again starting in 1941.

As a former staff attorney for the Montana Consumer Counsel, Tranel argued NorthWestern Energy had overcharged customers some $10 million when Colstrip was down, and the Public Service Commission denied the monopoly $8.2 million.

Tranel lost a bid for office with the Montana Public Service Commission in 2020.

So far, Tranel, also an Olympic rower, is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

“It’s time to invest in our middle class, each other, and our communities, and elect a champion for Montana,” Tranel said in a statement.

As of Monday, Libertarian Dennis Hayes of Townsend also had filed with the Montana Secretary of State’s Office. Hayes’ Facebook page identifies him as the owner of Big Sky Remodelers.