HELENA – Four incumbent state legislators were ousted by primary election challengers on Tuesday, while another three lost their bids to move up from the Montana House to the Senate.
However, 14 sitting lawmakers – all but one of them Republicans – survived primary challenges from within their own party.
The lawmakers who lost primary elections Tuesday are Sen. Carmine Mowbray, R-Polson; and Reps. Bob Wagner, R-Harrison, Alan Hale, R-Basin and Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder.
Belcourt, however, lost by only three votes to challenger Clarena Brockie of Harlem, setting up a possible recount. The final margin also could change, if there are additional provisional ballots or other ballots still to be counted in House District 32 in north-central Montana.
Mowbray lost a three-way race to Rep. Janna Taylor, R-Dayton, in Senate District 6 in western Montana. Taylor had 45 percent of the vote, while Mowbray had 41 percent, losing by 160 votes.
Hale, a first-term lawmaker from HD77 south of Helena, lost to Republican challenger Kirk Wagoner of Montana City by just 44 votes out of 1,670 cast.
Wagner, running for a third term in HD72 in southwest Montana, lost to Ray Shaw of Sheridan, who won by 49 votes out of about 2,100 cast.
The winner of the Belcourt-Brockie contest is HD32’s next representative, because there’s no Republican in the race. In the other three seats, the Republican primary winner is a strong favorite to win in the fall in Republican-leaning districts.
Three Montana House incumbents trying to win a Senate seat lost their primary races on Tuesday: Rep. Bill Beck of Whitefish lost the GOP primary to former state Rep. Dee Brown of Hungry Horse in northwestern Montana’s SD2; Rep. Frank Smith, D-Poplar, lost his challenge of Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder in SD16; and Rep. Gary MacLaren, R-Victor, lost to former state Sen. Fred Thomas of Stevensville in SD45 in southwestern Montana.
Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, had perhaps the closest scare of the incumbents who survived primary challenges.
Tutvedt, a farmer and the president pro tempore of the state Senate, faced a strong challenge from political newcomer Rollan Roberts II of Whitefish, who sunk more than $25,000 of his own money into the race.
Tutvedt eked out a 71-vote victory over Roberts out of more than 4,700 votes cast in SD3 in the Flathead Valley.
The recount in HD32 will depend on the final, official margin in the district. A recount can be requested by the losing candidate only if the final margin is less than 0.5 percent of total votes cast.
Brokie’s three-vote margin is about 0.4 percent of the total votes in the HD32 Democratic primary. Belcourt can request a recount after the final, official tally is confirmed later this month – and only if that margin remains less than 0.5 percent.