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Democrats gained seven seats in the state House of Representatives on Tuesday, including two regional pickups.

On the rebound from a 2010 election in which their party lost 18 seats, Democrats recaptured House District 41 from Republican Rep. Sterling Small, of Busby. Small lost to Patricia Rae Peppers, of Lame Deer, 1,399 votes to 1,080.

Peppers could not be reached for comment Wednesday. House District 41 includes portions of Big Horn, Rosebud and Powder River counties.

By late evening Wednesday, some votes in Yellowstone County and elsewhere in the state were still being counted.

In Livingston, Democrat Reilly Neill, making her first run for the Legislature, ousted Republican Rep. Dan Skattum, 2,387 to 2,059, in House District 62.

"I just heard from people over the last couple years that they didn't feel their representative was listening to them," Neill said of why voters sided with her.

After holding half of the 100 Montana House seats in 2009, Democrats saw their ranks dwindle to 32 in 2011. The increase to nearly 40 seats was a step in the right direction, said Rep. Virginia Court, D-Billings, who shepherded legislative races statewide for her party.

"Our goal was to pick up seven to 14 seats," Court said.

Republicans on Wednesday said they expected some losses from their 2010 gains. Republican Rep. Gordy Vance, R-Bozeman, who shepherded races statewide for the GOP, said Democratic Gov Brian Schweitzer told Republicans that all their 2010 gains would be gone in 2012. In that context, a loss of seven seats wasn't so bad.

The Republican House majority is still large enough for the party to set the agenda without minority interference.

"I really don't think it will be much different than last time," Vance said. "We were given pretty workable, substantial majorities by the people of Montana." 

In the Billings Heights, first-term incumbent Republican Rep. Douglas Kary was leading Democratic challenger Rita Wells in House District 48. Kary defeated former Democratic Rep. Wanda Grinde for the seat in a 2010 upset. 

West of the Heights, Democrat Dale Rumph trailed Republican Daniel Zolnikov in House District 47. The district was represented by Republican James Knox in the 2011 Legislature. Knox moved out of state after the session.

Huntley Republican Rep. Jonathan McNiven was leading Democrat Wallace Yovetich of Billings in House District 44. The district curls around Billings, spanning Huntley, Lockwood and Blue Creek.

In north-central Billings, House District 49 incumbent Democratic Rep. Mary McNally was leading Republican challenger Tim Stark.

Democrat Kelly McCarthy was leading Republican Taj Mukadam in House District 51. The central and southeast Billings district is held by Robyn Driscoll. Term-limited from office, Driscoll was running the Senate District 26.

In North Billings, Republican Dennis Lenz was leading Democrat Deborah Willis in House District 50. The district is currently represented by House Republican Majority Leader Tom McGillvray, who was term-limited.

Court was leading Republican challenger Kassidy Olson in House District 52, which covers central Billings.

In south-central Billings, Democrat Joseph Sands trailed Republican Dave Hagstrom in the race to replace Republican Rep. Elsie Arntzen in House District 53. Arntzen, who was term-limited, is attempting to unseat Democratic Sen. Gary Branae in Senate District 27.

Democratic Rep. Margie MacDonald was leading Republican challenger David Lewis in House District 54, which includes parts of south Billings.

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Incumbent Republican Rep. Cary Smith was leading Democrat Bob Winger in House District 55, which includes portions of west Billings.

In House District 57, Republican Sarah Laszloffy, of Laurel, easily defeated Democrat Sean Whiting. The daughter of former legislator Jeff Laszloffy was leading by nearly 2,000 votes.

In Laurel, Republican Rep. Krayton Kerns was leading Democrat Cole Olson. Kerns’ previous three elections were incredibly tight, with the results for House District 58 not finalized until days after the election.

Park City Republican Rep. Dave Howard easily defeated Democrat Jim Dickey, of Columbus, 3,390 to 1,494 in House District 60, which includes portions of Stillwater, Sweet Grass and Carbon counties.

Victory in the Carbon County race for House District 59, a rematch between Republican Rep. Joanne Blyton and Democrat Paul Beck, appears to be Blyton's. Blyton leads Beck 2,646 to 2,494. Two years ago, Blyton stunned Democrats by defeating Beck.

In House District 45, Musselshell Republican incumbent Tom Berry defeated Democrat Carolee Hagstrom. Berry leads 3,061 to 1,236. In addition to Musselshell, the district includes portions of Yellowstone and Rosebud counties. Both Berry and Hagstrom live in Roundup.

In Eastern Montana, Colstrip Republican Rep. Duane Ankney defeated Democrat Gary Perkins, also of Colstrip, 3,216 to 1,092.

In Glendive and the surrounding area, Republican Alan Doane defeated Democrat Jim Hicks 2,456 to 1,847 in House District 38, which includes parts of Dawson and Wibaux counties. The district is currently represented by Matthew Rosendale who is running to replace Sen. Don Steinbeisser in Senate District. 19.

On the Hi-Line, Democrat Floyd Hopstad, of Glasgow, lost to Republican Mike Lang, of Malta, 1,531 to 2,953 in House District 35, which includes parts of Valley and Phillips counties. The district is represented by Republican Wayne Stall, who was forced from office by term limits.

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.