- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - After more than a year of campaigning, candidates for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat are making their final push to the Nov. 4 election in what might be the most competitive state race this year.

Both major party candidates, Democrat John Lewis and Republican Ryan Zinke, are making their first run for federal office as Republican Rep. Steve Daines steps down because of his U.S. Senate bid. Libertarian Mike Fellows is also running for the House seat.

Lewis, 36, spent 12 years as a political aide to former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. The Helena resident served as field organizer for Baucus’ 2002 re-election campaign and eventually became state director.

Much of Zinke’s campaign has focused on his 23-year Navy career, which includes time as part of Navy SEAL Team 6. The 52-year-old from Whitefish served in the Montana State Senate from 2008 to 2012.

Issues shaping the Zinke and Lewis campaigns have included managing public lands, the Affordable Care Act, plans for reducing the federal debt and women and families, among others.

Lewis has hit hard on the issue of transferring federally-managed public lands to the state in part because Zinke signed a pledge two years ago that included the idea and because the state’s Republican party has added it to their platform.

“There’s a lot of bad ideas going around and this is the worst,” Lewis said, adding that he supports further protection for public lands.

Zinke has said he no longer believes in transferring lands to the state and wants to make sure public lands are well-managed. He also wants to require that local governments have a say in their management.

“I don’t want to sell public lands,” Zinke said, referring to an ad put out by Lewis that says that’s what will happen if lands are transferred to the state.

Zinke’s campaign has tried to paint Lewis as a Washington, D.C., insider because of his career with Baucus and has repeatedly accused Lewis of writing at least some of the Affordable Care Act because Baucus was the bill’s main sponsor. Lewis adamantly denies that claim. Zinke has said repeatedly he wants to abandon the national health-care overhaul.

Democrats have filed a complaint against Zinke for receiving support from the political-action committee he founded, the Special Operations for America PAC. They’ve also sought Zinke’s full military records and have called him out for releasing only glowing reports from his career. Republicans this week called for Lewis to provide any Affordable Care Act correspondence and emails from his work with Baucus.

Over five debates, on the airwaves and through boots-on-the-ground efforts, the candidates have sought to differentiate themselves. A Montana State University-Billings poll released Oct. 16 showed up to 25 percent of voters were undecided in the race.

In addition to the U.S. Senate race between Daines and Democrat Amanda Curtis, 100 hundred House and 25 Senate seats in the Montana Legislature are also up for grabs in the Nov. 4 general election. Democrats are pushing to gain control of at least one of the two legislative chambers. They’ve fielded candidates in every race in the first election since legislative districts were redrawn after the 2010 U.S. Census. Republicans have controlled both the state House and Senate for the past two sessions.

Public Service Commission chairman Bill Gallagher is not seeking re-election. Four people are vying for his District 5 position on the panel that regulates utilities: Republicans John Campbell of Kalispell, Brad Johnson of East Helena and Derek Skees of Kalispell, and Democrat Galen Hollenbaugh of Helena. Republican Commissioner Travis Kavulla of Great Falls is unopposed in District 1.

On the state Supreme Court, former Montana Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke is challenging Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat. Justice Jim Rice faces W. David Herbert in the other contested Supreme Court race.

This year’s ballot also includes two referred measures from the legislature.

One, C-45, is a constitutional amendment that would change the name of the office of state auditor to the commissioner of securities and insurance. The office’s current duties of regulating the securities and insurance industries would not change.

The other, LR-126, would eliminate Election Day voter registration and move the deadline for voter registration to the Friday before Election Day.

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