HELEN, Mont. — Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke won an unexpectedly close race Thursday to become the Republican nominee in the race for a new seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing western Montana, a victory that came after days of hand counting ballots in one borough comes.
Zinke defeated former State Senator Al “Doc” Olszewski by just over 1,600 votes out of 84,500 cast in the race, or 1.9 percentage points, according to preliminary figures.
Zinke was one of five Republicans in the first election for the open seat, which Montana won this year thanks to its growing population.
Zinke served as Secretary of the Interior under then-President Donald Trump, and his rivals have drawn attention to a troubled tenure marred by multiple ethical scrutiny. An investigation determined tine lied to an agency ethics officer about his continued involvement in a commercial real estate deal in his hometown. The federal prosecutor’s office rejected criminal prosecution.
Despite Trump’s endorsement, Zinke also faced a smear campaign from his party’s far right over his military service and questions about his residency after it was revealed that his wife had made a home in California her primary residence, qualifying her for a tax break.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, was considered the de facto incumbent, having twice won elections for the state’s other House of Representatives seat before resigning in 2017 to join the Trump administration.
Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon and uncompromising conservative, attempted to portray Zinke as one “liberal insider”.
The political dynamic reflects the GOP’s sharp right-wing turn, which meant Zinke’s status as a former cabinet member was not enough for some in his party. They said he was too soft on guns and hadn’t done enough to build Trump’s proposed wall on the US-Mexico border. His wife’s declaration of residency reinforced longstanding suspicions that Zinke spends most of his time outside of Montana.
Zinke doesn’t deny that his wife lives in California, and he admits to holding fundraisers there. He raised a total of $2.5 million by the end of March, almost as much as all other candidates from both parties combined, about 80% from foreign donors.
The result of the close race was delayed after Lincoln County found that a vendor had printed ballots on the wrong size paper, meaning they could not and did not have to be run through a machine tabulator counted by hand. The hand count began Tuesday and ended late Thursday afternoon.
Zinke passed Olszewski in Lincoln County by 428 votes in unofficial results.
In November, Zinke meets Olympic rower and attorney Monica Tranel, who won the Democratic primary for the US House of Representatives.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/09/ryan-zinke-wins-gop-nod-in-race-for-new-montana-house-seat/ Ryan Zinke wins GOP nod in race for new Montana House seat