11:40 a.m.: HELENA —Two national television networks – CNN and NBC – have declared Democrat Steve Bullock the winner of the Montana’s governor’s race over Republican Rick Hill and Libertarian Ron Vandevender.
So far, the Associated Press has not called a winner in the race.
Here were the latest unofficial vote totals, with 789 of 794 precincts counted or 99 percent, according to the AP:
Bullock, 217,064 votes, 49 percent
Hill, 207,654 votes, 47 percent.
Vandevender, 16,307, 4 percent.
10:50 a.m.: HELENA — Montanans still didn’t know the name of their new governor, as Democrat Steve Bullock maintains a slim lead over Republican Rick Hill.
Bullock bolted to an early lead over Hill and maintained it in Montana’s governor’s race throughout the night. Bullock’s lead over Hill in 10:50 a.m. results was 49.1 percent to 47.1 percent, with 3.7 percent for Libertarian Ron Vandevender. Bullock had 216,017 votes to 207,251 for Hill. Vandevender had 16,254 votes
On Wednesday morning, thousands of votes, including some from some of the state’s more populous counties, had not been fully counted.
As a result, the Associated Press had not yet declared a winner in the governor’s race.
"It's going to be a long night, but we're cautiously optimistic," said Bullock’s campaign manager, Kevin O’Brien.
Hill’s campaign manager Brock Lowrance said: “We are outperforming our goals in some key counties and still waiting for results in counties that we expect a strong showing in. There are still a lot of votes out there and we remain confident. We are going to continue to watch these votes as they come in, it’s looking like it’s going to be a long night.”
Bullock, Montana’s attorney general, grabbed the advantage over Hill, a Republican and former congressman, from the start in the race between two Helena men to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Trailing was Vandevender, the Libertarian from Craig.
Earlier in the night, each candidate greeted and thanked their supporters at rallies.
Bullock strode into the ballroom of a Helena hotel shortly after 9 p.m. to wild applause, with supporters waving the campaign’s red and white signs.
He wasn’t there to claim victory at that time, but to thank his three children and wife by name, with special stories about each one. Then Bullock thanked running mate John Walsh and his family, their campaign staff, his staff as attorney general and everyone who supported him.
“Thank you so much for coming out tonight,” Bullock said. “We know it’s going to be a long night, but I know what’s meaningful isn’t the words of victory or the words of concession, but it’s truly the words of appreciation. There’s only two names on the signs, on bumper stickers and on the ballot, but in all truth, so many people have supported us to do this that all of your names should be on the ballot.”
“Governor Bullock,” one man yelled during the speech, drawing cheers.
At a hotel across town, Hill received a similar reception at the Republican gathering as he greeted the crowd.
“What a great party,” Hill said. “I hope we’re going to have a really successful night.”
He said he didn’t know how the governor’s race would go, but added, “I anticipate that is going to be a very close election.”
Hill said it was about two years ago when he announced he would run for governor. He said his theme at his 2010 announcement and throughout his campaign was that Montana is one of the wealthiest states when it comes to natural resources but it has some of the poorest people
Bullock, 46, was elected as Montana’s attorney general in 2008, defeating Republican Tim Fox in a competitive race. As attorney general, Bullock, a Democrat, was able to steer bills through a Republican-controlled 2011 Legislature bills aimed at Montana’s drunken driving and prescription drug abuse problems.
In his campaign for governor, Bullock has advocated giving Montana homeowners a one-time $400 property tax rebate and called for eliminating property taxes on business equipment for businesses whose equipment has an aggregate market value of less than $100,000.
Hill, a Republican, who turns 66 next month, is a retired owner of a surety insurance business. He was elected to the U.S. House from Montana in 1996 and 1998, but didn’t seek re-election in 2000 because of eye problems that he says have been fixed.
He has proposed using some oil and gas tax revenue to fund schools and lower property taxes for homeowners and business owners. Hill said he will remove regulatory and legal barriers to spur greater natural development in Montana.
Vandevender, who turns 54 next month, is making is second run for statewide office, after losing a race for the U.S. House and two bids for the Legislature. The Libertarian candidate lives off the power grid in Craig, running a self-sufficient ranch where he raises his own meat and vegetables and barters whatever is left over with people for other products he needs.
His top priorities are creating more jobs, encouraging the formation of more agricultural cooperatives and urging the federal government to legalize hemp.