- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

EAST HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Bozeman businessman Greg Gianforte chose a little known Hi-Line rancher and county commissioner on Monday as his running mate to reclaim the Montana governor’s mansion for Republicans.

Gianforte’s pick for lieutenant governor, Phillips County Commissioner Lesley Robinson, is little known outside Montana’s agricultural circles but could help the ticket solidify support across rural Montana.

“She’s got the work ethic you’d expect from a Hi-Line rancher. She’s a strong leader and a fierce advocate for rural Montana. But most important, she’s a diplomat and she’s got a servant’s heart,” Gianforte said, as he introduced Robinson outside an East Helena farming supply store.

“She’s a leader in Montana’s No. 1 industry - agriculture,” he said.

Democrats, as well as political analysts, were scurrying to learn more about Robinson.

By choosing Robinson, Gianforte decided against picking a Republican with higher statewide name recognition, perhaps a prominent member of the Republican-dominated Legislature.

“She could help round out Gianforte’s ticket nicely,” said Dave Parker, a professor of Political Science at Montana State University.

Parker acknowledged he knew little about Robinson, but said it was important for Gianforte, who is making his first run for elected office, to pick someone who would not overshadow him.

Robinson’s profile would help complement Gianforte’s own background, he said, particularly as a bridge to rural Montana and with women.

“One critique of Gianforte might be: Well, he’s from Boze-Angeles. He’s from part of the state that is ‘la-la land,’ relative to the rest of Montana,” Parker said. “Picking a running mate like Lesley helps fix that.”

After the Monday morning announcement, Gianforte and Robinson drove to the state Capitol in Helena to file candidacy papers with the Secretary of State’s Office.

The Republican duo is seeking to deny Gov. Steve Bullock a second term.

Bullock is running for re-election alongside Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who took the post after the abrupt departure of Bullock’s second lieutenant governor, Angela McClean. She stepped down late last year after an apparent falling out with the governor.

Bullock won the governor’s office in 2012 with running mate John Walsh, who the governor later appointed to the U.S. Senate when former Sen. Max Baucus became the U.S. ambassador to China.

Jason Pitt, a spokesman for Bullock’s campaign, said Robinson should expect deeper scrutiny in the coming weeks, as the campaign delves into her background, record and leanings on a host of issues.

“We absolutely will. I think Montanans deserve transparency and accountability in our elected officials,” Pitt said.

“The two of them together would undo the progress Montana has been seeing. Montana’s economy has been strong under Gov. Bullock.”

Robinson, 49, was born and raised in Malta, a place she said has more cattle than people. She was first elected to the Phillips County Commission in 2005. In 2014, she served as president of the Western Interstate Region board for the National Association of Counties.

“I think it’s vital we have someone in leadership in Helena who understands rural issues,” Robinson said. “And I think it’s vital we have someone who understands county government.”

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