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HELENA - A Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Missoula who lost last week's primary election is trying to get on the ballot as an independent candidate - but she'll have to overturn state law to do it.

Patty Lovaas is one of five Republicans who were competing for the party's nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. She said Tuesday her party needs a real Republican in the race against Baucus, rather than nominee Bob Kelleher, who was chosen by voters in the June 3 election.

To that end, Lovaas said Tuesday she is circulating a petition to collect enough signatures to place her name on the Nov. 4 ballot as an independent candidate.

"When the flaws in the democratic system allow this type of misrepresentation to occur, it must be challenged," she said. "What I'm going to do is see if there is enough constituent interest to say, 'What happened here was wrong.' "

Yet state election officials said the deadline for getting on the Nov. 4 ballot is long since past and that state law bars anyone from running as an independent if they ran as a party candidate within the past year.

"We can't put her on the ballot," said Bowen Greenwood, spokesman for Secretary of State Brad Johnson. "We have to follow the law."

Lovaas said if she gets the 9,600 signatures needed to qualify as an independent candidate for the Nov. 4 election, she'll challenge the state laws that prevent her placement on the ballot.

Kelleher, an 85-year-old attorney from Butte, won the June 3 Republican U.S. Senate primary and will challenge Baucus in the general election.

Kelleher has run for statewide office more than a dozen times in the past 35 years, and his surprise victory last Tuesday was his first since 1971. He's run as a Republican, Democratic and Green Party candidate.

He won the primary with

36 percent of the votes cast by those who chose the Republican primary ballot. He needed only 26,789 votes to win a six-way contest.

Lovaas ran fourth, with

10 percent of the vote.

State Republican Party Chairman Erik Iverson said Tuesday while the party won't oppose Lovaas' effort, it won't support it either.

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Even though party officials think Kelleher doesn't have a prayer of beating Baucus and won't be actively supporting him, he's still the Republican nominee in the Senate race, Iverson said.

"We have a candidate, and our candidate is Bob Kelleher," he said.

Kelleher declined to comment.

Lovaas said Kelleher "was not even a factor" in the Republican campaign, appearing at only a couple of GOP dinners.

"If there is total apathy and we don't get the 9,600 signatures, so be it," she said.

Republicans also say that Mike Lange of Billings, who finished second in the primary, may run as a write-in candidate.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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