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Scott Twito
Yellowstone County Attorney candidate Scott Twito joins republicans at a party inside the Crowne Plaza in Billings, Mont. on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010.

Republican Scott Twito cruised easily to victory Tuesday in the race for Yellowstone County attorney.

Twito, a deputy county attorney who has worked in the office for more than 12 years, defeated Democrat Art Lusse 33,341 votes to 12,584.

Twito, 38, pulled out to a huge lead in the early results and never looked back. The outcome wasn't much of a surprise, with even Lusse joking early Tuesday that his chances weren't good.

Each candidate ran a civil campaign, focusing on his strengths.

"I feel honored and really kind of humbled that the people of this community have given me this opportunity," Twito said. "I don't want to let them down. I want to fulfill the promises that I made, bring back integrity to that office and be above board in everything I do."

Twito's win caps a year of upheaval in the county attorney's office. A year ago, incumbent Dennis Paxinos seemed poised to win another term, but Paxinos fell out of favor quickly after a female employee in his office accused him of sexual harassment.

Paxinos picked up four challengers before the June primary, including Twito, one of his deputies. On June 8, Twito defeated Paxinos and challenger Marv McCann in the Republican primary. Twito received 11,369 votes to about 5,200 each for Paxinos and McCann. On the Democratic side, Lusse received 4,099 votes to defeat Joseph Raffiani, who received 3,713.

Twito and Lusse ran positive campaigns in the general election, with both promising to work hard to reduce drunken driving. Twito said he wanted to modernize the office by introducing an employee review system and improving technology.

"I've got a great staff to work with, great support and I think we can get some things done and really make it the best county attorney's office in the state," Twito said. "I need to transition out of my current case load as a deputy county attorney and start thinking more big picture in terms of policy and my plans to upgrade technology."

Twito was born in Billings and is a graduate of the University of Denver Law School. He was hired by Paxinos as an intern while still in law school and went to work for the county after graduating. He and his wife, Sammy, have a young daughter and son.

Twito worked his way up to handling major cases, including the Richard Covington triple-homicide case that he successfully prosecuted earlier this year. Covington was sentenced to four life terms plus 55 years in prison.

On Tuesday night, Twito and Lusse ran into each other at a downtown restaurant, where they congratulated each other on running clean campaigns.

Lusse, 65, is an attorney who has practiced in California and later taught at the University of Montana School of Law. He specializes in mediation and currently teaches at Rocky Mountain College. Lusse said he enjoyed his foray into politics, but it's unlikely he'll do it again.

"With my first time in politics, the fact that I got 8,000 people who would put a scratch next to my name makes me a humble guy," Lusse said. "One of the things Scott and I talked about is how we can take pride in the kind of campaign that we ran. I come away from this obviously disappointed that I didn't win but with a good feeling on the whole thing, and I think we're in good hands with Scott at the helm."

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