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Zinke wins Montana's western district U.S. House seat

by Matthew Brown Associated Press
| November 10, 2022 11:50 AM

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Republican Ryan Zinke prevailed over his Democratic challenger in the race for a newly-drawn Montana U.S. House district on Tuesday, overcoming early stumbles including a razor-thin victory in the primary.

Election results Thursday morning show Zinke earning 50% of the vote, with Democrat Monica Tranel taking 46%. Libertarian John Lamb tallied 4% of the vote.

Zinke served previously in the House from 2015 to 2017 before leaving to join former President Donald Trump's cabinet as Interior secretary. He resigned after less than two years at the agency amid numerous ethics investigations, including two in which federal officials concluded that Zinke lied to them.

Democratic challenger Monica Tranel, an environmental and consumer rights attorney from Missoula, tried to capitalize on the scandals by characterizing him as a "snake" who quit Trump's cabinet in disgrace.

Zinke denied any wrongdoing. On the stump he touted his efforts under Trump to increase domestic energy production by easing restrictions on the oil and gas industry.

“I’m incredibly grateful to the people of Western Montana for once again placing their trust in me to fight for them in Washington, D.C," Zinke said in a press release announcing his victory. "The voters saw through the vicious lies and deceit of my opponents and radical political groups. Truth matters, and now it's time to fight for freedom and protect our way of life in Montana.

“For those of you who did not vote for me, my door is always open and you’ll find me to have an open ear, open mind and shoot straight when we disagree.”

Republicans have not lost a U.S. House race in Montana since 1994. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale also win in this midterm election. Over the past decade, voters have vanquished every Democrat holding statewide office except U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is up for re-election in 2024.

Zinke raised and spent about $6 million during the campaign — more than twice as much as Tranel, according to campaign filings through Oct. 19.

Zinke had won two statewide elections to the U.S. House before joining Trump's cabinet, where he eased restrictions on oil and gas drilling before resigning amid numerous ethics investigations.

During his campaign this year, the former U.S. Navy SEAL tried to portray himself as moderate by saying he does not support a no-exceptions ban on abortion. But, he also parroted GOP attacks on the Biden administration over inflation and border security.

Tranel is a consumer rights and environmental attorney from Missoula who ran unsuccessfully for Public Service Commission in 2020. She's campaigned on pledges to promote renewable energy development, expand affordable housing and end tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.