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Zinke, Rosendale look to extend GOP dominance in Montana

| November 8, 2022 9:25 AM

By MATTHEW BROWN and AMY BETH HANSON

Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. — President Donald Trump’s former interior secretary, Republican Ryan Zinke, and incumbent Rep. Matt Rosendale will try to fend off Democratic challengers as Montana voters elect candidates in two newly-drawn U.S. House districts in Tuesday's midterms after the Republican-controlled state gained a seat from the 2020 Census.

They are looking to extend recent GOP dominance in the state: Republicans have not lost a U.S. House race in Montana since 1994. Over the past decade, voters have swept Democrats from almost every statewide elected office, except for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is up for re-election in 2024.

Also on the ballot are two Montana Supreme Court races, one of which has become abnormally politicized, and an abortion-related referendum.

Zinke won two statewide elections to the U.S. House before joining Trump’s cabinet, where he eased restrictions on oil and gas drilling before resigning amid numerous ethics investigations.

The former U.S. Navy SEAL, who barely survived June's primaryover a far-right opponent, is vying for the seat representing western Montana. He is being challenged by Democratic attorney Monica Tranel and Libertarian John Lamb.

Zinke has tried to portray himself as moderate, saying he does not support a no-exceptions ban on abortion, but has parroted GOP attacks on the Biden administration, including on gun rights and border security.

Zinke has denied wrongdoing as Interior secretary and dismissed as vindictive investigators’ reports that he lied during a probe into a Native American casino proposal and about his involvement in a real estate project in his hometown.

Tranel is a consumer rights and environmental attorney from Missoula who ran unsuccessfully for Public Service Commission in 2020. She's campaigned on pledges to promote renewable energy development, expand affordable housing and end tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.

Lamb is an antigovernment extremist who thinks the punishments for many Jan. 6 Capitol rioters have been too harsh.

In the three-way contest for the eastern House district, Rosendale campaigned as a hardline conservative focused on curbing immigration at the southern border and countering Democrats who now hold a majority in the chamber.

Democrat Penny Ronning, a longtime advocate for victims of human trafficking, has promoted core Democratic issues including expanded child care, health care and affordable housing.

Independent candidate Gary Buchanan, a former state Commerce Department director, got on the ballot through a signature-gathering drive and has pieced together a diverse group of supporters ranging from unions to an endorsement from former Republican Gov. Marc Racicot. Buchanan has campaigned on a platform of fiscal conservatism, protecting abortion rights and opposing Russia's war on Ukraine.

In elections for Montana Supreme Court, incumbent Ingrid Gustafson is challenged by James Brown, an attorney who was elected as a Republican to the state Public Service Commission. Incumbent Jim Rice is challenged by Billings attorney Bill D'Alton.

Elections of justices are supposed to be non-partisan. However, the race between Gustafson and Brown has drawn huge sums of cash as Republicans back Brown and try to push the court in a more conservative direction, while Democrats hope to maintain its liberal majority to prevent the erosion of abortion rights in Montana.

The abortion related ballot referendum raises the prospect of criminal charges for health care providers unless they take “all medically appropriate and reasonable actions to preserve the life” of an infant born alive, including after an attempted abortion.

Opponents argue the proposal could rob parents of precious time with infants born with incurable medical issues if doctors are forced to attempt treatment. Supporters say it's meant to prevent the killing of infants outside the womb after failed abortions, which already is illegal.

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