Rep. Ryan Zinke won re-election to the U.S. House as Montana's lone congressman.

Though all the ballots had not been counted, Zinke never fell behind as results came in across the state. As of press time, he had a commanding 57 percent lead to Democrat Denise Juneau's 39. 

Juneau, the state's superintendent of public instruction, called Zinke to concede the race at 12:20 a.m. Wednesday. 

Zinke started focusing on his second term.

"The big challenge is how we heal and unite," Zinke said before taking the podium. "This is an American issue when the national anthem becomes political, when law enforcement isn't respected — we're going to have to unite as Americans."

About 150 supporters gathered in the Lodge at Whitefish Lake to watch the national poll results with Zinke and several Flathead County legislative candidates. The room grew increasingly jubilant as the presidential vote solidified around Republican Donald Trump. By 10:30 p.m., many were already heading home before Zinke made his public remarks.

Juneau would have been the first Native American woman elected to Congress.

Zinke said he was ready to work with Gov. Steve Bullock and the rest of the state leadership, acknowledging that Montana ranks No. 1 in the nation for political ticket splitting. He was also interested to see how the House of Representatives settled its leadership order.

"We'll have to see where (Speaker of the House) Paul Ryan is," Zinke said. "He did endorse Trump, but then the narrative he followed afterward was not very strong. He's got to convince the caucus that he's capable of leadership."

As to his own ambitions, Zinke said he'd wait to see which way the wind was blowing.

He said he was more focused on infrastructure issues in Montana, including improvements to Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, national forest amenities and other public lands.

"It's time to show leadership," Zinke said. "It's time to put politics in the back seat."

A Republican has held Montana’s House seat for two decades. 

The election for the House seat came one day after the anniversary of Montana’s Jeannette Rankin being elected to Congress in 1916 – the first woman ever elected to Congress.

After 23 years in the U.S. Navy SEALs, Zinke served one term as a state senator. In 2012, he ran for lieutenant governor, but failed.

He snagged Montana’s House seat in 2014 with a 55 percent win over Democrat John Lewis and Libertarian Mike Fellows. He filled a seat left vacant by Republican Steve Daines, who resigned to run successfully for his current U.S. Senate position.

Juneau has termed out after serving two terms as Montana’s state schools chief. During that time, graduation rates have increased to a record high of 86 percent. She started out as a high school teacher for seven years before moving on from education to law in 2004. After working as division administrator at the Office of Public Instruction, she was elected to lead OPI in 2008.

In a Montana State University Billings poll conducted Oct. 3-10, Zinke held a 19 percent lead over Juneau, with 19 percent undecided. A Lee Newspapers poll conducted Oct. 10-12 found that lead had narrowed, with Zinke holding a 13 percent lead over Juneau, and 6 percent undecided.

Analysts predicted that gap would be hard for Juneau to close in the final weeks.

This has been the most expensive House race in recent Montana history, with both campaigns raking in about $8.13 million through Oct. 19.

In the final two weeks, the House Majority PAC, a national Democratic group, poured nearly $500,000 into TV ads attacking Zinke.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

0
0
0
0
0