Montana candidates advancing to the general election are looking forward to the time when they can get back on the campaign trail. The primary election, ramped up while the state was under directives designed to help prevent spread of the novel coronavirus, had them reliant on phone calls to reach voters.
“Montanans expect you to show up in every corner of the state,” Bryce Bennett, winner of the Democratic primary for secretary of state, said Wednesday. “They want to be able to look you in the eyes, shake your hand and get a sense of what leadership you'll bring to the office."
Bennett will take on Deputy Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, winner of the Republican primary, in the November election.
Bennett said his key issues are pushing back on out-of-touch politicians who want to make it harder for Montanans to cast their ballots, and ensuring it's easy and convenient for businesses to register with the state.
Jacobsen, a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, said she would continue to fight for clean and fair elections. She voiced concern over the primary’s closure of polling places because the state used an all-mail election. The voter turnout was similar to 2016, Jacobsen said Wednesday.
Over 87,600 more votes were cast during the 2020 primary than in 2016. The number of votes cast in the U.S. House race was up by 49% for the Republican candidate and 32% for the Democratic candidate. The statewide turnout for the 2016 primary was more than 45% of registered voters while this year’s was nearly 55%, according to the secretary of state's office.
Democrat Raph Graybill and Republican Austin Knudsen will square off in the attorney general's race.
Graybill, chief legal counsel to Gov. Steve Bullock, said his key issues are ensuring preexisting medical conditions continue to be covered under the Affordable Care Act, that the state fights increasing prescription drug prices and that the attorney general is proactive in helping to open up more public land.
Knudsen, a former speaker of the state House, said he would direct more of the office's budget to local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to address meth trafficking and the resulting violent crimes.
Graybill and Knudsen said they would continue state efforts to battle opioids and to improve the state's response to missing indigenous people.
“We have to keep our eyes on the prize here and know what's causing that and it's the same people who are trafficking in this meth,” Knudsen said. “All that stuff is tied into the Mexican cartels as well. They're trafficking these girls. There's no question about it.”
Republican Troy Downing and Democrat Shane Morigeau will meet in the race for auditor and state insurance commissioner.
Downing, who has not held public office, said he would focus on watching out for Montana consumers. He said his business background helps him understand when regulations are not protecting consumers and making it hard for businesses to thrive.
Morigeau, a member of the state House, emphasized healthcare access and public lands protection.
The contest for superintendent of public instruction is a rematch of the 2016 race between Republican Elsie Arntzen and Democrat Melissa Romano.
Arntzen, the incumbent, said she would continue to advocate for local control of schools. Romano said she would work to bring public preschools to the state and provide mental health services for students and teachers in public schools, especially with the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it's imperative that we have a leader in the office who will show up at the Legislature and be an advocate for our students,” Romano said. “That was sorely lacking in the last two legislative sessions with the current superintendent.”
Iris Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.