One of the most closely watched — and expensive — legislative races in Montana remained too close to call Tuesday night.
Senate District 49 measures about 500 square miles, stretching from western Missoula to the Idaho state line. Incumbent Sen. Diane Sands first won the Senate seat by just 35 votes in 2014. This year, she not only faced the challenge of appealing to both urban and rural voters, but also an opponent with star power: former Griz and NFL running back Chase Reynolds.
As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, Reynolds had the lead, with 1,668 votes to Sands's 1,287, with all eight of the district's precincts partially reporting, according to the Montana Secretary of State's Election Results web page.
Reynolds, a political novice, called for pro-business tax and regulatory policies, easing of housing restrictions, aggressive forest management and natural resource development. Sands, meanwhile, stressed public lands protection, small-scale agriculture, affordable health care and education.
Sands had surmised that Republicans wanted to flip her seat, and predicted a “very major campaign.” She reported nearly $50,000 in campaign contributions, while Reynolds took in $17,500. (His campaign-finance reporting drew a complaint from Missoula resident Tom Facey, but Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan dismissed it.)
Sands had the vocal support of Lisa Swallow, one of hundreds of guests at the Union Club’s watch party. “She gets the whole picture. She gets economics.” Asked about Reynolds, Swallow said that “I like his fiscal responsibility … I don’t like how he feels about much else.”
“We are very very excited that so many Republicans are younger,'' said Vondene Kopetski, Missoula County Republican Chair at the GOP watch party at the Press Box around 9 p.m. "Chase is one of those. Chase is very representative of a really high-quality candidate who would make an excellent senator.”
Visit missoulian.com for updated coverage on this and other state legislative races.