BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte defeated Attorney General Tim Fox Tuesday to win the Republican nomination for Montana governor.
Gianforte, 59, will face the winner of the Democratic primary between Lieutenant Gov. Mike Cooney and first-time candidate Whitney Williams.
The victory gives him another shot at a seat he failed to win four years ago despite spending millions of dollars of his own money.
“We’re very encouraged from the overwhelming response we’ve gotten across the state,” Gianforte told the Associated Press after the race was called. “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves on day one and get our economy working again.”
The former businessman is one of the wealthiest members of Congress and entered politics after selling his Bozeman-based technology company to Oracle in 2011.
He lost in 2016 to Democrat Steve Bullock in an election that saw President Donald Trump win Montana by a 20-point margin. Gianforte was ambivalent toward Trump in that campaign, but has since reframed himself as a staunch ally of the president.
Gianforte is perhaps best known outside Montana for assaulting a reporter the day before a 2017 special election to fill Montana’s vacant U.S. House seat. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs to the ground and breaking the reporter’s glasses.
Fox had argued that he had a better chance of winning the general election because Gianforte was a polarizing figure. State Sen. Al Olszewski trailed in the Republican race.
Bullock is term-limited from seeking reelection and running for U.S. Senate against Republican Steve Daines.
Republicans are seeking to end 16 years of Democratic domination of the governor’s office.
Voters had turned in a record 353,129 ballots through noon Tuesday, which is nearly 59,600 more than the 293,548 cast in the 2016 primary, according to the secretary of state.
The governor’s race topped the list of competitive races that featured five open statewide offices with elected officials either termed out or deciding to run for a different position.
Cooney, a former legislator and secretary of state, has campaigned on building on the successes of Bullock’s tenure. Williams, a businesswoman who is the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams and former state Sen. Carol Williams, has drawn on her deep political connections and fundraising experience to build a strong campaign that’s challenged Cooney.
Bullock defeated first-time candidate John Mues for the Democratic nomination for senate.
Daines, a first-term senator, defeated Daniel Larson and John Driscoll in Tuesday’s GOP primary.
That race is expected to have a high national profile in the fight for party control of the Senate.
Republicans including State Auditor Matt Rosendale and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton were competing for the nomination for Gianforte’s open House seat.
Former state Rep. Kathleen Williams, who lost to Gianforte in 2018, won the Democratic nomination again, this time against state Rep. Tom Winter.
Rosendale’s and Stapleton’s open seats have led to competitive Republican primaries. Two Democrats and two Republicans are competing for their parties’ nominations to succeed the termed-out Fox as attorney general.
Former Vice President Joe Biden won the Democratic nomination for president after the two other candidates on the ballot, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, dropped out and endorsed Biden.
President Donald Trump ran unopposed for the Republican nomination.