HELENA - Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Republican state Sen. Roy Brown raced to easy victories in their respective primaries and will face off in November.
Schweitzer handily won a three-way Democratic primary against political newcomers William Fischer of Lakeside and Don Pogreba of Helena.
Brown likewise coasted to a big Republican primary victory over Larry H. Steele of Great Falls, who had twice run for local office.
Also running against Schweitzer and Brown in the November general election will be Stan Jones, a Libertarian from Bozeman
With 61 percent of precincts reporting, preliminary results showed:
- Schweitzer: 107,347 votes, 91 percent.
- Fischer: 6,399 votes, 5 percent.
- Pogreba: 3,588 votes, 4 percent.
- Brown: 42,717 votes, 82 percent.
- Steele: 9,470 votes, 18 percent.
Neither Schweitzer nor Brown criticized the other on primary election night.
Schweitzer took the occasion to tout his accomplishments.
"I've spent my time trying to attract more businesses to grow in Montana, continuing to grow the restoration economy, cleaning up the mines and rivers of the past, and protecting access to public lands for people who like to go out and hunt and fish," he said in an interview. "Montana has taken the lead in producing clean and green energy and the whole world has taken notice."
Added Schweitzer: "I've been governor during the greatest number of new jobs with the highest wages. I've cut taxes more than any governor in the state of Montana, and the rating services - Standard and Poor's, Moody's and Fitch's - have upgraded Montana's bond ratings for the first time in 26 years. It's clear the whole world is recognizing Montana as a well-managed government."
Brown, in a telephone interview, thanked his backers.
"I'm just overwhelmed with the support that we've gotten from people all across the state from people who have supported our campaign," Brown said. "We're very encouraged to start this next stage of the campaign and will continue to work toward lower taxes, a stronger economy and quality education."
Schweitzer, 52, is seeking a second term as governor, campaigning on a slogan of "Montana on the Move."
A farmer and rancher, Schweitzer has been a strong proponent of alternative energy such as wind power, but also has been seeking investment in a plant to convert coal into liquid fuels. Schweitzer points to his past support of more spending for K-12 schools and higher education and his advocacy of access to public lands.
Last week, Schweitzer won the endorsement from the National Rifle Association's political action committee.
In 2004, Schweitzer defeated Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown to become the first Democrat elected governor of Montana since 1984.
Roy Brown, 57, is a residential rental property owner in Billings making his first run for statewide office. Before winning a state Senate seat in 2006, he served four terms as a state representative, including two as the top Republican floor leader.
In his campaign, Brown has criticized Schweitzer for what he says are large increases in state spending and the failure to enact permanent property tax breaks for homeowners and businesses. Brown has called for more accountable and responsible spending in state government.
To raise more money for Montana's schools and universities, Brown has called for a more aggressive approach to developing coal in Montana, citing Wyoming as an example. Brown favors eliminating the state's 3 percent tax on business equipment, a move that he said would help stimulate Montana's economy.
Challenging Schweitzer in the Democratic primary were Fischer, a excavator and logger from Lakeside, and Pogreba, a high school teacher from Helena.
Pogreba, 36, said he thought Schweitzer has done a "great job" as governor, but offered different perspectives on education and energy. He said the state, under Schweitzer and previous governors, had failed to live up to its constitutional responsibility to fund quality schools.
Although he hadn't run for office previously, Pogreba has had a blog, www.intelligentdiscontent.com, which often covers political issues.
Fischer, 48, is another political newcomer who focused on prayer, not issues.
He asked Montanans to pray for the state and its government. He said he would establish a continuous prayer schedule for Montanans 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People would sign up for time slots and pray for the state regularly.
On the Republican side, Steele opposed Brown. Steele, 35, is a customer-care representative for a computer company. This was his first race for statewide office. Steele lost attempts to run for the Legislature and the Great Falls City Commission.
He has been highly critical of the increase in state spending under Schweitzer the past four years and called for reining it in. If Montana suffers from a recession, he predicted state officials will be advocating tax increases to cover the hefty increases in state spending.