News and Commentary

GOP Keeps Montana Senate Seat: Steve Daines Fends Off Democratic Challenge
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 21: Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) appears with host Jennifer Hammond during her annual Memorial Day Special "Serving America" on Capitol Hill at the Russell Senate Office Building on May 21, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Larry French/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) has beaten Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to hold on to his Senate seat in Montana.

Daines held on to the seat in the tight race, fighting off Democratic attempts to flip and take the Senate, according to The New York Times.

The race between Bullock and Daines attracted a significant amount of attention this election cycle as Democrats identified it as one of several key races that could help them take control of the Senate in 2021. As The Associated Press reports:

The heavyweight battle has been one of the most closely watched Senate races in the U.S., with political groups and the campaigns pouring more than $100 million into the contest. That’s a record shattering figure for the sparsely populated state that dwarfed spending in much larger battlegrounds and subjected residents of Big Sky Country to a barrage of advertisements virtually any time they turned on their computer, television or radio or opened their mailbox.

Bullock as governor and Daines as a first-term senator have each won a state-wide election, meaning that Daines presumed advantage as the incumbent was worth much less against an established politician like Bullock.

President Donald Trump won Montana easily in 2016, beating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by a margin of 55.6% to 35.4%. Afterward, Daines aligned himself closely with the president as he campaigned for reelection to the Senate.

Bullock joined the race for the Senate in March after pressure from Democratic leaders who had identified the race as one where the party had a good chance at flipping. Former President Barack Obama joined in with other Democratic leaders to pressure Bullock into challenging Daines.

Before challenging Daines for Senate, the Montana governor, who is term-limited out of office, had tried and failed to mount a presidential bid. His campaign for senator highlighted many of the same themes as he cast himself as a moderate candidate who could work with Trump on matters of policy important to voters in Montana. Trump has continued to play a central role in the race as each candidate insists that he can work with the president, with Daines an unabashed ally and supporter of the president.

After the coronavirus hit, Bullock locked down Montana’s schools and businesses and issued a stay-at-home order. Bullock’s actions gave Daines a line of attack to appeal to Montana’s more conservative voters by criticizing Bullock’s heavy-handed approach to slowing the virus.

Montanans turned out in record numbers this election cycle, beating the all-time record for most Montanans to ever vote in an election before election day came around. As the Billings Gazette reported:

A record 517,441 ballots had been cast as of late Monday morning, according to data from the Secretary of State, surpassing the previous high in 2016 of 516,901 by 540 votes.

Turnout by Monday afternoon was at just over 69%. More ballots had been cast in 12 counties — Yellowstone, Gallatin, Flathead, Missoula, Lewis and Clark, Ravalli, Lake, Madison, Sanders, Park, Jefferson and Wheatland — than in the 2016 general election.

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