By Associated Press - Tuesday, June 5, 2018

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The Latest on Montana’s primary election (all times local):

10:35 p.m.

Montana State Auditor Matthew Rosendale has won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in the race to challenge Democratic incumbent Jon Tester in November.

Rosendale defeated three other candidates in Tuesday’s GOP primary. The 57-year-old has support from deep-pocketed Republican donors who want to deny Tester a third term.

The campaign grew heated when former Judge Russ Fagg said Rosendale would go easy on “illegal immigrants who commit murder.” Political committees backing Rosendale hit back with attacks on Fagg’s judicial record.

The race between Rosendale and Tester will be under a spotlight. President Donald Trump vowed to make Tester pay for sinking his nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Trump’s remarks prompted a flood of outside money on ads blasting Tester and propping up Rosendale.


11:20 p.m.

The race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Montana is too close to call, with State Auditor Matt Rosendale holding a small lead over retired Judge Russ Fagg.

There also is no clear winner in the other major race in Montana’s primaries Tuesday - the Democratic nomination for U.S. House. The two leaders in that five-way race are former state lawmaker Kathleen Williams and Billings attorney John Heenan.

The winner of the GOP nomination for Senate will take on incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is one of 10 Senate Democrats facing election in states that Trump won in 2016.

The winner of the House primary will challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte in November’s general election.


8:05 p.m.

Polls have closed in Montana’s primaries as voters pick a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and a Democrat for U.S. House.

The races were called at closing time Tuesday for the unopposed incumbents, Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte.

They and other candidates running unopposed advanced to the Nov. 6 general election.

Republican candidates in the four-way U.S. Senate primary and the Democratic candidates in the five-way U.S. House primary are awaiting the results of their elections at watch parties in their hometowns.

Montana is one of eight states holding primary elections Tuesday. Tester’s re-election campaign will be a closely watched race as Republicans try to oust him and nine other Democratic senators in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016.


6:20 p.m.

Retired judge Russ Fagg is pushing for votes up until the last moment in Montana’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate after outside groups spent more than $1.1 million attacking his candidacy.

With just two hours left in the race on Tuesday, Fagg stood at a busy intersection waving to drivers passing near the central polling station in Billings, Montana’s largest city.

Fagg says even a handful of votes could make a difference in what he sees as a close contest between himself and state Auditor Matt Rosendale.

Rosendale and several political groups that are backing him outspent Fagg by roughly 4 to 1.

State Sen. Al Olzsewski of Kalispell and Big Sky businessman Troy Downing also are on the primary ballot.


5:25 p.m.

More Montana voters have cast absentee ballots in this primary election than in any other primary over the past decade, and perhaps in state history.

The Secretary of State’s Office said 209,072 people had voted absentee as of Tuesday afternoon. That surpasses the 205,224 who cast absentee ballots in the 2016 presidential primaries.

The secretary of state’s online records only go back a decade, but absentee voting has been increasing every election cycle since 2008, when only 96,729 people voted absentee in the primaries.

The high rate of absentee returns indicates that turnout will be higher than in past non-presidential primaries, when about a third of voters in the 2010 and 2014 elections.

Secretary of State Corey Stapleton has said he expects about 65 percent of voters who cast ballots in the primaries to vote absentee. In 2016, 70 percent of voters cast absentee ballots.


2:55 p.m.

The #MeToo movement has prompted a record number of women to run for office across the nation, but Democratic U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams is the only female candidate for federal office in Montana’s primaries this year.

One Helena voter, 65-year-old Rick Duncan, said he voted for Williams on Tuesday because Montana needs to stop sending “crusty old white men” to office.

Another voter, 60-year-old Cheryl Donovan, says she voted for one of Williams’ opponents, Grant Kier.

She says it’s an unfortunate reality in Montana that a man supporting women’s issues is more electable than a woman.

Donovan says she remembers being disappointed when former school superintendent Denise Juneau lost to ex-U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke in 2016.


2:05 p.m.

Voter Mikele (MY’-kell) Miller thinks Donald Trump’s unorthodox leadership style is getting things done in Washington, but she doesn’t feel the same way about his fellow Republican, Montana U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte.

Miller, an independent, cast her primary ballot Tuesday for one of Gianforte’s would-be challengers, Democratic attorney John Heenan.

The 68-year-old Billings woman says Heenan and the other Democrats have been more focused on the issues than the incumbent. She points to Heenan’s promotion of education, health care and government services that help families.

Miller’s reasoning fits in with Heenan’s populist message that’s designed to appeal equally to backers of Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders: drain the swamp, reduce the influence of corporations and reform health care. Those are stances Trump took but that Heenan says the president hasn’t followed through on.


1:40 p.m.

Outside groups spent more than $3 million boosting state Auditor Matt Rosendale and attacking his opponents in Montana’s Republican U.S. Senate primary - and in the case of Billings voter Mike Worl it paid off.

The 43-year-old truck driver from Billings cast his ballot for Rosendale on Tuesday largely because he’d become familiar with the candidate through advertisements.

Rosendale’s emphasis on family values also appealed to Worl. He says the candidate being from Maryland was a non-issue.

That wasn’t the case for civil engineer Robbie Neihart, who cited the deep Montana roots of his choice, retired state judge Russ Fagg.

Neihart says with his 22 years in the judiciary, Fagg is the only Republican with the stature and experience to take on two-term incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat.


12 p.m.

Montana voters went to the polls Tuesday to pick challengers to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte.

Secretary of State Corey Stapleton says voting was going mostly smoothly Tuesday morning, with no reported equipment problems or weather-related issues.

He says there was some confusion in Missoula with polling places being move due to construction.

Based on the number of absentee ballots returned, Stapleton says the turnout could be between 36 and 38 percent - higher than the 33 percent turnout in each of the past two midterm primaries.

He expects most will vote one of the two major party ballots because there is only one contested race on the Green Party ballot.

Early results will be released shortly after the polls close at 8 p.m.


1:25 a.m.

Montana voters went to the polls Tuesday to pick a challenger to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester after an expensive primary election campaign marked by attack ads, big spending by outside groups and President Donald Trump inserting himself in the race.

Voters also were deciding on a Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte nearly a year after the Republican was sworn in to fill the term of Ryan Zinke, who resigned to become Trump’s Interior secretary.

Voter interest appeared to be higher this year than in other recent primaries when there was no presidential election. The rate of absentee ballot returns suggests voter turnout may be at least a few percentage points higher than in the 2014 and 2010 elections, when just one-third of all registered voters turned out.

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