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Downing Wins Primary For House Seat

Downing Wins Primary For House Seat Downing Wins Primary For House Seat

Montana State Auditor Troy Downing Tuesday easily won thecrowdedRepublicanprimary in the race to represent the state’s eastern U.S. House district.

With almost all ballots counted, Downing captured 36 percent of the vote. Following him were former congressman Denny Rehberg and former Drug Enforcement Agency official Stacy Zinn, respectively. Rehberg, a late entry to the race, received just 17 percent of the vote, handing Downing a decisive victory.

“We kept our eye on the goal, we did not get sucked down any rabbit holes. I’m honored that I’ve earned the support of the voters; that’s not lost on me,” Downing said.

Downing’s victory followed an endorsement from former President Donald Trump on June 3, though it’s hard to say whether Trump helped push Downing over the edge or if the Trump camp simply hitched itself to the candidate who already led the field in polling and fundraising.

“Joe Biden has completely failed the American people when it comes to securing the border,” Downing wrote on Facebook shortly before the election. “When I’m in Congress, I’ll work with President Donald J. Trump to secure our border and deport illegal aliens. Trump knows I’m the right man for the job, that’s why he’s thrown his support behind our message and endorsed my campaign.”

Downing is an Air Force veteran and businessman who, like many prominent Montana candidates, was born elsewhere — California, in his case — established a parttime presence in Montana and eventually settled in the state full-time, which he did in 2009.

On the campaign trail, he said he was the only candidate with his blend of military, private sector experience and government service, describing himself as a “classical conservative” who could walk the walk.

The crowded primary — where policy differences between candidates are few and a particular form of right-wing identity politics rules the day — is the kind of field that assembles when an open seat appears in a deep-red district that, for the right person, could provide a long and potentially influential career in national politics.

“There are candidates here who have never received a paycheck that isn’t taxpayer-funded,” Downing previously told MTFP.

But other candidates — namely sitting Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, who fashioned herself the only true “America First” candidate in the race — attacked Downing for his out-of-state roots and said he was insufficiently supportive of Trump, citing previous social media posts Downing made critical of Trump.

Arntzen touted endorsements from members of the House Freedom Caucus, the group of hardliners that counted the district’s outgoing occupant — Congressman Matt Rosendale — as a member. But, as in the short-lived campaign between Rosendale and fellow Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy, Trump chose the candidate with greater ties to the political establishment.

Despite being a current, state-level elected official, Arntzen received under 10 percent of the vote and came in fourth in the primary.

Rosendale’s announcement that he would seek the Senate — followed shortly by his announcement that he would in fact step away from politics, at least for now — opened the door for a litany of Republicans to try and replace him. Outside of Downing, Rehberg, Zinn and Arntzen, the GOP primary featured a slew of other hopefuls with varying degrees of name recognition. Only one, former lawmaker Joel Krautter, actively opposed Trump.

Downing said he’ll now keep his “foot on the gas pedal” and work not only for his election but also to support other Republican federal candidates like Ryan Zinke and Tim Sheehy.

The eastern district is deeply Republican, giving Downing an outsized chance at success in the general election. He will face John Driscoll, a former state lawmaker who won the Democratic primary late Tuesday.

John Driscoll

Driscoll, who was a speaker of the state House of Representatives in the late 1970s and a member of the Public Service Commission in the ensuing decade, defeated three other Democrats in the primary with a third of the vote. That’s despite not raising or spending enough money to cross the Federal Election Commission’s reporting threshold of $5,000.

“I’ve spent $217.14 so far,” Driscoll told MTFP. He said he’s keeping track so he’ll have receipts if he wins and someone calls his bluff on his pledge not to engage in the murky world of political fundraising.

He said he met voters where they were instead of relying on paid media to increase his profile. The people he spoke to were primarily interested in reproductive freedom for women and ensuring that Montana’s economy benefits from a transition to renewable energy that Driscoll says is overdue.

He said he’s lived in parts of Montana on both sides of the continental divide that are now seen of as unwinnable for Democrats and isn’t particularly convinced by that school of thought.

“They’re people just like the rest of us. I’m not too impressed by people that just blow it off as being too conservative for a guy with Democrat next to his name to win.”

In the 2022 general election for the district, Rosendale beat the second-place candidate — well-funded independent Gary Buchanan — by more than 30 points.

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