BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Republican Ryan Zinke prevailed over his Democratic challenger in the midterm election for a newly drawn Montana U.S. House district, overcoming early stumbles that included a razor-thin victory in the primary.
Zinke served previously in the House from 2015 to 2017 before leaving to join former President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as Interior Secretary. He resigned after less than two years at the agency amid numerous ethics investigations, including two in which federal officials concluded that Zinke lied.
Democratic challenger Monica Tranel, an environmental and consumer rights attorney from Missoula, tried to capitalize on the scandals by characterizing him as a “snake.”
Zinke said Thursday morning that “Montana saw through the lies” about him and instead responded to his calls to curb energy costs, restrict abortions with some exceptions and address housing shortages. Zinke said Republicans now “have to deliver on promises made.”
“One key promise is we have to assert the power of the purse,” he said. “We’ve got to show we can control the budget. Right now the budget is out of control.”
Libertarian John Lamb, an anti-government extremist and organic farmer, finished third. Outside groups including one linked to Democrats promoted Lamb’s candidacy in an attempt to peel votes away from Zinke.
Republicans have not lost a U.S. House race in Montana since 1994. Over the past decade, voters have vanquished every Democrat holding statewide office except U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is up for reelection in 2024.
Zinke raised and spent about $6 million during the campaign – more than twice as much as Tranel, according to campaign filings through Oct. 19. Zinke had won two statewide elections to the U.S. House before joining Trump’s Cabinet, where he eased restrictions on oil and gas drilling.
The former U.S. Navy SEAL tried to portray himself as a moderate. But he also parroted GOP attacks on the Biden administration over inflation and border security.
Tranel ran unsuccessfully for Public Service Commission in 2020. She campaigned on pledges to promote renewable energy development, expand affordable housing and end tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.
Montana voters also reelected U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale and two incumbent state Supreme Court justices, and rejected an abortion-related referendum.
Rosendale, a hard-right conservative, easily won a second term in the U.S. House as he fended off Democrat Penny Ronning and independent Gary Buchanan in eastern Montana. Libertarian Sam Rankin finished fourth in the heavily Republican district.
In the Supreme Court elections, Justice Ingrid Gustafson defeated attorney James Brown and Justice Jim Rice defeated Billings attorney Bill D’Alton.
Elections of justices are supposed to be nonpartisan. However, the Gustafson race drew huge sums of cash as Republicans backed Brown and tried to push the court in a more conservative direction, while Democrats hoped to maintain its liberal majority to prevent the erosion of abortion rights in Montana. Brown was previously elected as a Republican to the state Public Service Commission.
The defeated abortion referendum raised 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.
Many physicians and other opponents argued that the measure could rob parents of precious time with infants born with incurable medical issues if doctors are forced to attempt treatment.
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