HELENA — Montana voters cast ballots in dozens of contested primary legislative races Tuesday, capping a campaign season marked by a nasty rift between conservative and moderate factions of the Republican Party.
Republicans had to see through an intraparty struggle that emerged during the 2013 session and spilled over to the voting booth. Some legislators calling themselves the "responsible Republicans" worked with Democrats to pass legislation in 2013, including the state budget, over the protests of the conservative faction.
Thirty-eight of Tuesday's 50 contested primaries were Republican. About half of those involved a challenger trying to oust an incumbent.
Outside groups got into the fray, sending mailers to voters to attack each faction's primary candidates.
Despite the attacks, most Republican incumbents or current legislators seeking new seats managed to fend off their challengers. Rep. Ray Shaw, who defeated challenger Bob Wagner in House District 71, said that he couldn't thank the people in his district enough for the support.
One exception was Rep. Roger Hagen, who lost to challenger Randy Pinocci in House District 19.
Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, was a target of some of those attack mailers as he faced conservative challenger Ann Morren in the House District 18 primary. He was beating Morren with 82 percent of the precincts counted.
"I just want a conclusion," Cook said Tuesday.
Several other elections were too close to call Tuesday night, including the race between incumbent Sen. Scott Boulanger and challenger Patrick Connell. Boulanger was down by fewer than three dozen votes with 92 percent of the votes counted in the Senate District 43 GOP primary.
All 100 state House seats and 25 of 50 Senate seats are up for grabs in the Nov. 4 general election. Republicans control both houses, but Democrats were fielding at least a candidate in every legislative race for the first time in recent memory as they push to take over at least one chamber.
This also was the first election since legislative districts were redrawn after the 2010 U.S. Census, adding another element of uncertainty with some candidates campaigning in unfamiliar areas.