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Tuesday was culling day as Yellowstone County Republicans eliminated six candidates in contested primaries for the Legislature. Democrats eliminated two.

Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, appointed to the seat in Senate District 28 to replace Sen. John Bohlinger, R-Billings, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2004, overwhelmed a concerted effort by Rep. Mark Noennig, R-Billings, who was term-limited in the House.

Early unofficial returns put Essmann in the lead with 1,119 votes to 362 for Noennig. The winner faces Democrat Rayla Romain in the November election. Romain had no primary opponent Tuesday.

In a three-way contested Republican race in House District 56, Ernie Dutton was in front of Weldon Birdwell, who was making his third attempt for the Legislature, and Kassidy Olson, who also ran two years ago.

Dutton took the early lead with 433 votes to Birdwell's 237 and Olson's 38. Democrat Mike Creeden was unopposed Tuesday.

In the race to replace Noennig in House District 46, the contest between Republicans Phil Lilleberg and Ken Peterson was playing out slightly in Lilleberg's favor.

In early counts, he had 252 votes to Peterson's 241. The primary winner faces Democrat Doug Harper in the November balloting.

In a high-profile Democratic contest in House District 49, Gene Jarussi trailed Kendall Van Dyk, 427 to 605. The seat is open this year because incumbent Rep. Roy Brown, R-Billings, is term-limited. Brown is running for the Senate. He was unopposed in the Senate District 25 primary and will face Democrat Margie MacDonald in November. She had no opponent in the primary.

A second Democratic contest had Bobbie Larson defeating William Nigro in House District 57 by 332 to 73. Larson will take on Rep. Penny Morgan, R-Billings, in the fall. Morgan had a bye Tuesday.

A GOP race on the South Side had Michael Brockie beating Jim Bennett in House District 51, 221 to 164. Brockie will face Rep. Robyn Driscoll, D-Billings, in November. She had no opponent in the primary.

In House District 54, Keith Lang and Rod Garcia were running for the nomination to take on Rep. Gary Branae, D-Billings, who was unopposed Tuesday. Lang had the advantage, 158 to 143, over Garcia in unofficial results.

In Carbon County, Democrats were deciding who will represent the party in a fall contest with Republican and Constitution candidates in House District 59. With two precincts reporting, Dan Dutton, of Belfry, led Paul Beck, of Red Lodge, 75 to 71.

Beck is a newcomer to legislative campaigns, while Dutton is making his third run at the seat in HD59. Republican Scott Boggio, of Red Lodge, and Constitution Party member Jay McKean, of Roberts, face off with the Democratic nominee in the fall to replace Rep. Joan Andersen, R-Fromberg, who was term-limited.

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