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HELENA – Starting with a rally in front of a statue of Jeannette Rankin and ending with a walk to the Secretary of State’s Office to sign paperwork, Denise Juneau filed Thursday to run for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House.

If elected, Juneau, a Democrat, would be the first American Indian from Montana and the second woman from the state, after Rankin, to serve in Congress.

“Growing up in Browning and on the Blackfeet Reservation, I would have never believed it possible to be standing here today in front of Jeannette Rankin and all of you,” she told supporters. “... It’s possible to go from Head Start to Harvard (University). It’s possible to go from a small rural Indian reservation to Congress.”

Juneau, who is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, told supporters who gathered for the noon rally that as Montana’s superintendent of public instruction, she’s raised graduation rates, pushed back on federal initiatives and raised academic standards.

In 2015, the state’s graduation rate was 86 percent, up about 4 percent from 2011. Earlier this year, Juneau announced a plan to have high-school juniors take the ACT test in place of Smarter Balanced tests, a move some disapproved of but that was ultimately approved by the Montana Board of Public Education.

Juneau, who announced her bid for the seat in November, said she’d spoken with Montanans who support her, including a middle-aged woman who is “enthused to finally see someone represent her and her partner in politics.”

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Juneau is the first openly gay candidate to run for Congress in Montana and has introduced her girlfriend at campaign events.

“I’m in this race to make sure everyone has a path to economic and social success,” she said. “I’m in this race to make sure every voice is included. I’m here not to build a bigger wall, but to build a longer table.”

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Since the start of her campaign in November, Juneau has raised $263,803, according to the Federal Election Commission. She’s spent $22,101 and had $239,601 in the bank, according to the last reports ending Dec. 31. Zinke has brought in far more than Juneau; in 2015 he raised $2.7 million, spent just shy of $2 million and ended the year with $743,983 in the bank.

Juneau was born and raised in Browning, and is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes.

She is a graduate of Montana State University, earned a master's in English from Harvard and taught in North Dakota and Montana before getting a law degree from the University of Montana.

She has served two terms as state superintendent public instruction.

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