HELENA -Republican Michael Lange of Billings, who finished second in the U.S. Senate primary, said Saturday he will continue to run for the seat as a write-in candidate.
The former Montana House majority leader made the announcement at a press conference at the Capitol with truck driver and rancher Anton Pearson of St. Regis. Pearson also lost in the primary to former Green Party member Bob Kelleher of Butte.
Lange said he and Pearson are running a "team campaign," and that if elected, he will make Pearson his state director. He added that he hopes to bring on board two others who lost in the six-way primary, Billings businessman Kirk Bushman and Missoula accountant Patty Lovaas.
"We want to represent the issues we all campaigned on," said Lange, who turns 48 on Sunday.
Lange and Kelleher, a perennial candidate who stunned observers by winning the Republican nomination, will face incumbent U.S. Sen. Max Baucus in the general election.
Lange said he is staying in the race because "people need an alternative." He added that he doesn't want Republicans to think of the Senate seat as impossible to win and throw in the towel.
"This race shouldn't be put on a back burner," he said. "It's too important for that."
Lange, a refinery welder who has touted his roots as a union worker, made headlines last year for cursing at Gov. Brian Schweitzer toward the end of a contentious legislative session, and was soon replaced as majority leader.
He said Saturday he plans to focus his campaign on government spending, private property rights, health care, jobs and other issues, rather than on personal attacks. He added that he's hoping for an opportunity to debate his opponents, whom he described as having "similar visions" about the government's role.
Asked where the party stands on his candidacy, Lange said: "They have a lot of decisions to work through."
Erik Iverson, Montana Republican Party chairman, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Saturday. However, party officials have said that the voters of Montana have spoken and already have chosen a candidate.
Lange acknowledged he faces numerous hurdles as a write-in candidate but said he already has started looking into getting labels with his name printed on them, so voters won't have to write it on their ballots.
Beyond that, he said he plans to reach out to "everyday Montanans who believe it's time for a change in Washington, D.C."
"I'm going to campaign as much as I can," Lange said. "We have to send out a lot of letters to a lot of people asking for their support."
Pearson said he also is committed to the campaign and plans to spread the pair's message at fairs and parades across the state.
"Where Mike can't get, I'll go," he said.