There were lots of clear favorites in Eastern Montana GOP primaries.
With ballot returns mostly in Wednesday , most legislative winners were comfortably ahead in their contested primary races within The Gazette’s coverage area. Returns for nine House races and five Senate contests were complete.
Jeff Essmann won 67 percent of the vote to defeat Debra Bonogofsky in House District 54, which includes the west part of Billings and Duck Creek.
Essmann had 1,337 votes to Bonogofsky's 648. Essmann now faces a three-way general election against Democrat Nancy Rasky and Libertarian Jeffrey A. Hill, both of whom were uncontested in the primary.
In other Billings races, former Montana Board of Oil and Gas administrator Tom Richmond won 62 percent of the vote to defeat Aaron Langford in the Republican primary for House District 50, which includes central Billings. Richmond had 556 votes to Langford's 328. Richmond now challenges Democrat incumbent Virginia Court, who didn't have a primary opponent.
In South Billings, Republican Tony O’Donnell won 69 percent of the vote in House District 51 to defeat Landan Cheney. O’Donnell had 613 votes to Cheney's 271. O'Donnell now faces incumbent Democrat Margie MacDonald, who didn’t have a party challenger.
Between northeast Laurel and far west Billings, Republican incumbent Sarah Laszloffy won 60 percent of the vote to defeat challenger Mark Noennig in House District 53. Laszloffy had 1,543 votes to Noennig's 1,037.
Laszloffy now faces Democrat Clarissa Cerovski, who was unopposed in the primary.
In multicounty districts, Republican incumbent Rep. Tom Berry, of Roundup, won 60 percent of the vote to defeat Shepherd's Ray Gorham in the House District 40. Berry had 1,245 votes to Gorham's 824 in the race to represent Broadview, Melstone, Roundup and Shepherd. Berry now faces Democrat Edith Sloan, who didn’t have a party challenger.
Other House races of regional interest included the Republican battle for Red Lodge and the Clark’s Fork River valley, where Seth Bergleee won 55 percent of the vote to defeat Julie Bauwens Jones in House District 58. Berglee had 872 votes to Jones' 706. Berglee now faces Democrat Mitzi Vorachek, who sailed through the primary uncontested.
In Livingston’s House District 60, Republican Debra Lamm won 56.2 percent of the vote to defeat Kevin Fochs. Lamm had 750 votes to Fochs' 581. Lamm now faces incumbent Democrat Reilly Neill.
House District 30 Republican incumbent Ryan Osmundson, of Buffalo, won 59 percent of the vote to defeat rancher Jim Paugh, of Coffee Creek. Osmundson had 1,079 votes to Paugh's 747. Osumundson now faces Lewistown Democrat Dan Simpson.
On the Hi-Line, Wolf Point incumbent Democrat Bridget Smith, won 56.3 percent of the vote to defeat challenger Bill Whitehead in House District 31. Smith had 541 votes to Whitehead's 418. Because she doesn't have a general election opponent, Smith has been reelected.
In area Senate races, Republican Duane Ankney, of Colstrip, won 57.7 percent of the vote to defeat Barry Usher in Senate District 20. Currently a state Representative, Ankney had 2,214 votes to Usher's 1,619. There is a Democrat on the general election ballot, Rod Mogen, of Rosebud.
In central Billings, Republican Tonya Shellnutt won 53 percent of the vote to defeat Rodney Garcia and Keith Winker In Senate District 24. Shellnutt had 1,160 votes to Garcia's 552 and Winkler's 464. The district’s incumbent, Democrat Kendall Van Dyk, has withdrawn from the race. The Yellowstone County Democratic Central Committee will nominate a replacement candidate after the primary.
In west Billings, Republican Cary Smith won 60 percent of the vote in Senate District 27 to defeat Donald Roberts 2,667 votes to 1,749. Smith will face Democrat Eric Johnson for the all-Billings district. Johnson was unchallenged in the primary.
There was another battle between House lawmakers trying to cross over to the Senate. Republican David Howard, of Park City, snatched 51.7 percent of the vote in Senate District 29 to defeat Joanne Blyton, of Joliet. Howard had 1,811 votes to Blyton's 1,683.
Howard now faces Red Lodge Democrat Susan “Elli” Elliot, who didn’t have a party challenger.