- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Democratic candidates for statewide office are getting an early jump on their 2016 election campaigns.

Monica Lindeen, Montana’s term-limited state auditor, hit the campaign trail this week in her bid to become the next secretary of state.

Her deputy and former state lawmaker, Jesse Laslovich, has been traveling around the state since announcing last month his candidacy to fill her position.

“It’s a long way to November 2016, but a head start never hurts,” Montana Democratic Party Communications Director Bryan Watt said.

Gov. Steve Bullock, meanwhile, is fundraising for his re-election campaign at the Helena home of NorthWestern Energy CEO Bob Rowe on Thursday.

It isn’t unusual for a gubernatorial campaign to begin so early, Bullock told reporters last week, noting that former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill announced his 2012 candidacy two years before that election.

Montana State University Billings political scientist Craig Wilson said Republicans need to get their campaigns in motion to stay competitive.

But Montana GOP Executive Director Chris Shipp said an election isn’t won 18 months before the polls open. Shipp said Republicans contemplating candidacy are taking a “measured and careful” approach to 2016. Being “the first one to announce,” he said, “does not guarantee victory.”

Republican Champ Edmunds announced his candidacy for state auditor in early April, but he and his campaign couldn’t be reached for comment.

Lindeen, who declared her candidacy Wednesday, said she announced early in the name of good sportsmanship.

“I wanted to make sure I made my intentions known so other people can make their decisions,” she said.

Her announcement came the week after state Rep. Bryce Bennett made his own intentions known. The three-term Missoula Democrat said he had been considering whether to run and at one point discussed with Lindeen the possibility of a primary runoff, but called her last week to tell her he decided against it.

“I’ve put a lot of thought into it, and I have been encouraged by a lot of people to consider running for secretary of state, but I thought it over and decided this isn’t the year. I’m supporting Monica Lindeen,” Bennett said. He added, “My choice was an independent choice because of what I thought was right for me.”

Laslovich said he has been using weekends and putting in some late nights to campaign. He said the prolonged election cycle is frustrating, but it’s necessary.

“If you’re going to do it the right way,” Laslovich said, “you need to get out there and get people committed and show you have support.”

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