HELENA — By Wednesday afternoon, the Republican primary in Montana’s new western congressional district remained essentially where it was Election Night – a narrow margin and no one ready to claim a victory.
Former U.S. Rep. and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and orthopedic surgeon and former state Sen. Al Olszewski are still locked in a too-close-to-call race to claim the Republican nomination in the 1st Congressional District. Zinke led by just under 1,200 votes Wednesday, out of more than 80,000 cast.
Zinke, who could point to congressional experience, a roughly 4-to-1 fundraising advantage and an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, was widely considered a frontrunner. But Olszewski has run two recent statewide primary campaigns – for U.S. Senate in 2018 and governor in 2020 – and he has touted his conservative credentials.
As the results came in Tuesday night, Zinke took a narrow lead and generally held on to it – though Olszewski briefly pulled ahead after a large report from Flathead County, the area where he had his biggest lead. Zinke has taken large margins in Missoula and Ravalli Counties.
The most notable votes still outstanding are in Lincoln County. Results there are delayed because the ballots were cut too short, forcing officials to count them all by hand instead of in automatic machines.
So far, neither candidate has made a public statement on the election results. Both campaigns have said they plan to wait until the race is officially called.
Regardless of who wins the Republican nomination, we already know their opponents. Democrat Monica Tranel won her primary decisively Tuesday night, and Libertarian John Lamb will also appear on the ballot.