- Associated Press - Thursday, January 24, 2019

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s attorney general announced his candidacy for governor on Thursday, joining what’s expected to be a crowded Republican field as the GOP tries to win next year’s open seat and put an end to 16 years of Democratic rule.

Tim Fox, a 61-year-old cancer survivor in his second term as attorney general, said Republicans may have lost the past four gubernatorial elections, but now the time is right for a conservative governor - and he’s best suited for the job.

“This is the first time in many years that Republicans have a chance to actually win the governor’s race with a conservative candidate, and it’s time to get started,” Fox said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Montana voters pride themselves on their independence in electing candidates, but they’ve increasingly favored Republicans in elections over the past decade. That’s left incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester as the only Democrats holding statewide elected offices, and Bullock can’t run again due to term limits.

Republicans have started lining up early, with the GOP primary still 17 months away. Secretary of State Corey Stapleton previously announced his candidacy, and others are expected to follow.

No Democratic candidate has emerged yet as a would-be successor to Bullock, who is exploring a run for president.

“Given the fact there is no clear - in my view - candidate on the Democratic side, this is one of their best opportunities,” Montana State University political scientist David Parker said of Republican chances of capturing the office.

Fox was elected attorney general in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. As attorney general, he has backed protections for survivors of violent crime, led anti-human trafficking initiatives, increased penalties for sexual predators and domestic abusers and participated in lawsuits to protect gun rights.

He has also joined national lawsuits challenging Obama administration regulations dealing with energy and the environment.

Fox has been criticized by some right-wing Republicans for being too moderate. Parker said Fox is generally perceived as being less ideological than some Republicans, which could help him in a general election. But it may be a challenge for him in a Republican primary where voters tend to be more conservative.

Perhaps anticipating that fight, Fox repeatedly touted his conservative credentials, dismissed the idea that he is a moderate Republican and held up his record as attorney general in his interview with the AP.

“Conservatism isn’t measured by who can shout the loudest with a camera or a microphone in their face, it’s really measured by results,” Fox said. “Certainly, I’ve been able to work with people on both sides of the aisle - that’s not being moderate, that’s being a statesman.”

Fox and Stapleton butted heads last fall, when the secretary of state said he hired an outside attorney to represent him in a lawsuit instead of the attorney general’s office because he wanted someone he could trust in the courtroom.

That prompted Fox to respond that Stapleton’s decision was a political one that cost the state $60,000 for a case that the secretary of state lost.

Montana Democrats responded to Fox’s announcement by questioning his motivation for running.

“Montanans deserve a real leader as governor, not a politician who puts personal ambition above their interests,” Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Monica Lindeen said in a statement.

Fox was diagnosed with colon cancer in April. Surgeons removed 7 inches (18 centimeters) of his colon and he underwent chemotherapy. He announced in September that his treatment had been successful and he was cancer-free.

“I’m very healthy and I’m ready to work hard for Montanans today, tomorrow and long into the future,” he said.

Fox was born in the southeastern Montana town of Hardin and has degrees in geology and law from the University of Montana. He recently completed a master’s degree in public administration.


Associated Press writer Amy Beth Hanson contributed to this report from Helena.

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