HELENA — Democratic Sen. John Walsh and Republican Rep. Steve Daines were just selected as their party nominees for the U.S. Senate, but their campaigns have been swinging against each other for weeks.
Walsh and Daines have been operating as though there were no primary elections. Each has been focused on the other, looking ahead to the Nov. 4 general election that will determine whether the U.S. Senate seat that has been in Democratic hands for a century will remain so.
Walsh said he won't change his approach to the campaign, though he was bracing for a new level of attacks ahead.
"We're going to see a lot of outside money coming into the state. I believe they're going to attack my strengths, which is my military record," the 33-year Montana National Guard veteran said. "They're going to try to swiftboat my career."
That race will be one of the most closely watched in the nation, with Republicans needing just a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate.
"Montanans know that if they are going to change Washington we're going to have to stop war on the middle class," Daines said after his victory. "We have to change the Senate. I'm going to be a different voice in the Senate then John Walsh."
The third candidate in the general election will be Libertarian Roger Roots of Livingston.
Just in the past month, Walsh has hammered Daines for voting last year to shut down the government, voting against funding a bill the Democrat supported to protect domestic-violence victims and for past anti-abortion votes, while accusing Daines of trying to smear his military record.
For his part, Daines has questioned Walsh's speed in taking a position on the Veterans' Affairs scandal, called Walsh a poor manager as head of the Montana Department of Military Affairs and accused the Democrat of telling "whoppers" in his ads against Daines.
The rhetoric only figures to ratchet up now that the primaries are over.
Walsh has highlighted his 33 years in the Montana National Guard and made veterans' affairs a centerpiece of his campaign, including health care and suicide prevention for veterans.
Daines' campaign message has been focused on the economy and reducing what he calls federal overreach into state and business concerns.
Walsh is seeking to win a full six-year term to the seat Gov. Steve Bullock appointed him to in February after six-term Sen. Max Baucus resigned to become ambassador to China.
Daines and the Republican Party see Baucus' departure as their best shot of recapturing last held by the GOP by Joseph Dixon in 1907.
Walsh defeated Wilsall rancher Dirk Adams and former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger on Tuesday to win the Democratic Senate primary, while Daines easily beat state Rep. Champ Edmunds and political newcomer Susan Cundiff in the Republican election.
Montana voters also chose Democrat John Lewis of Helena as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House seat that Daines is vacating, along with party nominees for 125 legislative seats.
The GOP House race was too close to call Tuesday night, with former state Sens. Ryan Zinke of Whitefish and Corey Stapleton of Billings leading a five-candidate field.
In the House race, Lewis is looking capitalize on the momentum of his primary win against former Montana House Speaker John Driscoll to take back the seat that Daines is leaving. Democrats haven't represented Montana in the U.S. House since Rep. Pat Williams left in 1997.
But Lewis will have to defeat the winner of the bruising five-way Republican primary that was being led by Zinke and Stapleton with more than half the precincts counted.
Lewis, who is making his first run for public office after serving for 12 years as a Baucus aide, said who he faces in the general election isn't important.
"I'm not running based on running against somebody. This is about the future of Montana and who's got the best vision for Montana. I'm going to continue to talk about that and focus on solutions, not partisan attacks from our opponents," he said.
The other House Republican candidates were Sen. Elsie Arntzen, state Sen. Matt Rosendale and Helena businessman Drew Turiano.
Libertarian Mike Fellows of Missoula also is a House candidate in the general election.