Ryan Zinke Montana House GOP race

Ryan Zinke and his wife Lolita wave to passing cars and voters outside the Flathead County Fairgrounds on Tuesday, June 3, in Kalispell, Montana. (AP Photo/Daily Inter Lake, Brenda Ahearn)

BILLINGS – Republican U.S. House candidate Ryan Zinke made a strong pitch for party unity in a speech Saturday at the state Republican Party convention.

“I don’t blame Democrats for our president,” Zinke said. “I blame us. It was our fault. We as Republicans did not have a message. We did not have unity. United we stand, divided we fall. That’s what we must remember.”

Zinke, a former state senator from Whitefish, won an at-times bitter, five-way primary earlier this month with 33 percent of the vote.

Two of his primary opponents, state Sens. Elsie Arntzen of Billings and Matt Rosendale of Glendive, sat at his table for the breakfast in a show of support. Zinke said he, Arntzen and Rosendale all pledged in the primary campaign to support whichever one of them won.

He chose motivational speaker Tammy Hall of Bozeman to introduce him. Hall said she didn’t support Zinke in the primary, and he knew it.

“But I didn’t think we could lose with the people we had running,” she said.

Hall said she now is fully behind Zinke.

“There is something about a man who has served in the Navy SEALs and served this country,” Hall said. “This man will fight for life and fight for unborn babies, and his opponent won’t. This man will fight to defend our borders.”

In his talk, Zinke hit on his familiar campaign themes of easing the burden of government regulation on business and said energy independence is critical for the country.

“I’m an optimist,” Zinke said. “The gloom and doom about how America is lost and our best days are behind us, I don’t buy it.”

Zinke added, “I ask this party to go from a party of no to a party of go.”

He criticized the Obama administration for “its war on fossil fuels.”

Zinke later took another shot at President Barack Obama.

“I ask you to join me, join the party, unify in our efforts to win the Senate, win the House and put this rascal on the run,” Zinke said.

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On Saturday night, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, who is running for the U.S. Senate, also called for party unity.

“We must remain united in our fight,” Daines said in prepared remarks. “We can’t win the election if we don't first persuade more people and build new coalitions. We must first persuade before we can win. It’s more about fly-fishing, than spear fishing.”

Daines said the Senate race is about the each person and the future of the state and nation.

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“We have the opportunity to create high paying jobs … and keep our kids and grandkids here in Montana,” he said.

Daines said Montana values are under attack by the policies of the Obama administration.

The Republican Senate candidate said the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, must be stopped.

Daines noted that at the first Senate debate on June 14, his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Walsh, said the jury was out on Obamacare.

“Well, I have news for appointed Senator Walsh: The jury is in and Montanans have rendered a verdict, they don’t want Obamacare,” Daines said.

He went onto say that Republicans can't change Washington and stop Obama without growing its majority in the House and electing Zinke, “a proven leader, a decorated Navy SEAL with an MBA (master’s degree in business administration) in finance who will stand for Montana.”

It’s critical that Republicans take back the Senate, Daines said.

“American people fired Nancy Pelosi in 2010,” he said. “It’s time we fire Harry Reid in 2014. Harry Reid and appointed Senator John Walsh are all too willing to rubber-stamp Obama’s reckless agenda.”

In the Senate race, Daines said Montanans will see different visions for America: Walsh’s “more government and less jobs” or his “more jobs and less government.”

“Montanans didn’t have a choice in their appointed Senator in February - but the voice of the people of Montana will be heard this November,” Daines said.

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Chuck Johnson is chief of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached by email at chuck.johnson@lee.net or by phone at (406) 447-4066 or (800) 525-4920.

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