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• Senate District 2 (White-fish, Columbia Falls, North Fork of Flathead River): This race for an open seat now held by retiring Democrat Dan Weinberg is attracting attention and cash.

It features two longtime Whitefish residents, neither of whom has served in elected office before.

Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Ryan Zinke, 46, works as a financial consultant for small businesses. He describes himself as a "Teddy Roosevelt Republican," a conservationist, supporter of urban planning and friend of both parties.

His Democratic opponent, Brittany MacLean, 38, is a grant writer and single mother to four children.

• SD18 (Northeastern Mon-tana): Democrats are trying to hang onto this rural district held by Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, the Republican-turned-Democrat who can't run again because of term limits.

The races pits John Brenden of Scobey, a farmer, businessman and former state senator and Republican Party chairman, against Demo-crat Shirley Baumgartner, a pharmacist from Glasgow.

Both have been going door to door, running radio ads and putting up signs.

Baumgart-ner, 56, said she's been emphasizing her health care background and how she feels she can work well with people from both parties. She owned a Glasgow pharmacy for 26 years.

Brenden, 67, said he's been talking about his business background and how Republicans are the ones who support all types of energy development.

• SD22 (Yellowstone Valley from east Billings to Miles City): Easily the most expensive legislative race in the state, this sprawling district features a heated contest between Democratic state Sen. Lane Larson of Lockwood and Republican Taylor Brown, a broadcaster and radio-network owner from Huntley.

Together, the two candidates had raised nearly $130,000 in campaign funds as of last week, an extraordinary amount for a state legislative race. Larson is the money leader with $72,000 raised so far, and both men have culled donations from across the state and the nation.

The high-profile swing race also has attracted spending by political party and interest groups, which have paid for mailers, telephone calls and advertising.

Larson, a union electrician from Billings, sponsored a key bill in 2007 to enforce Montana's stream access bill, but it was blocked by Republicans. He says he'll be reminding voters about his record on education funding and other issues.

Democrats also have criticized Brown as a clone of former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, saying Brown is looking to launch a statewide political career.

Brown, who bought the Northern Ag Network from Burns, says he's interested only in this race, and has been talking about his support for energy development, lower taxes and leaner government.

• SD27 (South Billings): Republican Jack Sands and Democratic state Rep. Gary Branae, both of Billings, are waging a fierce battle in this swing district, which may be the only chance Demo-crats have to pick up a Republican seat in the Senate.

The Demo-cratic-leaning district is an open seat, be-cause incumbent Republi-can Corey Stapleton is barred by term limits from running again.

Sands, a local attorney and former state representative, has been the target of Democratic Party mailers and phone calls castigating him for his work defending criminals in court.

Branae, a retired teacher, publicly denounced the attacks on Sands and said he asked the Democratic Party to stop them.

Sands has said the state's budget surplus should be used to finance education and property tax reductions.

Branae has said the state must consider whether the surplus will be "sustainable," and urges caution, saying he supported Democratic-led efforts in past sessions to use surplus money for one-time spending and tax rebates.


• HD13 (western Sanders County): In this western Montana district, it's the battle of the two incumbents.

Sen. Jim Elliott, D-Trout Creek, is term-limited in the Senate after having served there since 2001. He's trying to move to the House by challenging first-term Rep. Pat Ingraham, a Republican from Thompson Falls.

The race also features Consti-tution Party candidate Renn Bodeker of Plains, who could affect the outcome in a close race.

• HD58 (Laurel): Two local veterinarians are squaring off in this race, which was won by Republican Krayton Kerns by three votes in 2006.

Rep. Kerns and Democratic challenger Don Woerner are buying column space weekly in the Laurel Outlook to reach voters in a tight race.

Kerns has long paid for space in the local weekly for "Ramblings of a Conservative Cow Doctor," a column that usually begins with an anecdote from the candidate and ends with some quick talking points about taxes, family values and all things political.

He says increased funding for public schools isn't going to happen unless the state taps its coal, oil and natural gas resources. The outspoken conservative says he would eliminate any state revenue surplus by reducing the tax burden.

Woerner's column is titled "Ruminations of a Pragmatic CowDoc," playing on the act of cows chewing their cuds, as well as people "ruminating" over political ideas.

He says current state funding of public schools is inadequate and that he would work with teachers, school boards and families to assure that funding is fair and education quality is high across the state.

Surplus revenue should be put toward road and infrastructure repairs that have been neglected, he says, adding that the best use of excess funds could be returning them to the taxpayer.

• HD63 (South Bozeman, northeast Gallatin County): This Bozeman-area district is usually one of the most expensive - and close - House races in the state, and this year is no exception.

Rep. J.P. Pomnichowski, a Democrat who won the seat by 35 votes out the 5,800 cast in 2006, is trying to fend off a challenge by Republican Tom Burnett, who recently sold a small business. Both are from Bozeman.

Gazette State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison, Gazette reporter Tom Lutey, and Michael Jamison and Chelsi Moy of the Missoulian contributed to this report.