HELENA - Republican Tim Fox stomped to an early lead Tuesday night, while Democrat Steve Bullock clung to a thin victory as of press time in the primary battles for attorney general.
In the Democratic race for school superintendent, Denise Juneau held a commanding lead over her three opponents.
In the three-way Democratic attorney general matchup, Bullock claimed 41 percent of the votes counted with just 36 percent of precincts reporting as of press time. Mike Wheat came in a close second with 37 percent and John Parker trailed the pack with 22 percent.
Among Republicans, Fox enjoyed a safe lead of 59 percent of votes counted over his GOP opponent, Lee Bruner, who had 41 percent. Only 28 percent of Republican ballots had been counted at press time.
In the four-way scrum for Democratic school superintendent nomination, Juneau had an easy lead with 38 percent of the vote. Holly Raser came in second with 25 percent, while Sam Kitzenberg trailed with 20 percent. Claudette Morton brought up the rear with 16 percent of the vote. Only 41 percent of the vote had been counted as of press time.
No victor had been declared in any of the races.
Both Democrats and Republicans crowded the wide-open race for attorney general, where Democratic incumbent Mike McGrath was barred by term limits from seeking a third term.
The two Republicans and three Democrats waged quiet, cordial campaigns, with Democrats all turning to high-dollar television, mail and billboard ads to help separate themselves from the pack.
On the Republican side, the race was between Bruner, 47, a Butte lawyer who made his political debut in the campaign, and Fox, 50, a longtime GOP political volunteer who won key endorsements from the party's top brass: former Gov. Marc Racicot and former Sen. Conrad Burns.
Fox said he'd come down harder on sexual predators, while Bruner stressed education as the key to keeping Montana safer and said he favored developing state-owned coal reserves, with the royalty and lease money flowing to public schools.
The Democratic race pitted three strong candidates, all bringing years of legal practice and political involvement to the campaign.
Bullock, 42, of Helena, cut his political teeth organizing the successful initiative in 2006 to raise Montana's minimum wage. A public interest lawyer, Bullock said he'd crack down on prescription drug abuse and continue defending Montana's unique laws guaranteeing citizen access to streams and state lands.
Wheat, 61, a longtime Bozeman lawyer and decorated Vietnam combat Marine, said he would go after criminals who use the Internet, telephones and direct mail to scam or victimize Montanans.
Parker, 37, a deputy Cascade County attorney and three-term state representative, stressed his courtroom experience prosecuting criminals and said he would keep the heat on drug dealers, while pushing for rehabilitation for addicted felons.
The Democratic race for school superintendent was similarly busy, with four current and former teachers all touting their credentials.
All four said they opposed No Child Left Behind and wanted more money for public schools.
Juneau, 41, a former teacher in North Dakota and her hometown of Browning, also holds a law degree from the University of Montana and has worked for years as an administrator in the Office of Public Instruction.
Morton, 68, a longtime educator with a doctorate in education, stressed her many years teaching, working to develop classroom curriculum and understanding of rural schools.
Kitzenberg, 60, of Glasgow, stressed his 17 years of classroom experience and 14 years in the state Legislature. Kitzenberg is a former Republican who switched parties before the 2007 Legislature, giving Democrats control of the chamber.
Raser, 55, a 27-year elementary school veteran still teaching at Missoula's Target Range School, said she was the only one who had actually taught under No Child Left Behind and understood its failures. Raser served in the House for eight years.