HELENA - Democrat Linda McCulloch has won Montana's secretary of state's race in a very close election, ousting Republican incumbent Brad Johnson and completing a Democratic sweep of statewide offices.
McCulloch, who is currently superintendent of public instruction, claimed 49 percent of the vote to Johnson's 48 percent. The margin of victory was 4,474 votes out of 459,666 cast for the two candidates.
The race was called after it appeared there were not enough provisional ballots cast to close the gap. Johnson also conceded Thursday afternoon, shortly after McCulloch declared she had the votes to win.
"Montanans have spoken, and the time has come for me to congratulate Linda McCulloch on a hard fought campaign," Johnson said. "I will do whatever is needed to ensure a smooth transition to her administration."
The secretary of state is Montana's chief elections official and is the keeper of records required of businesses.
McCulloch, 53, was a librarian and lawmaker before becomes schools chief eight years ago.
"I am thankful to the voters of Montana for electing me the secretary of state," said McCulloch.
McCulloch said excitement among many people for presidential candidate Barack Obama probably helped down ticket Democrats like herself, even though Obama fell short of carrying the state himself. She also believes voters chose her based upon her work for two terms as the state superintendent.
"They know after all these years that I do a good job," she said.
McCulloch said she looked forward to talking with Johnson about the office and learning more from his staff.
She promised during the campaign to work to avoid long lines that plagued elections in 2006 and help better educate local election officials about any changes, such as same-day voting.
McCulloch said Friday that she thinks the 2008 elections were ran well.
With the win, Democrats claimed all five seats on the state Land Board, which makes decisions dealing with oil leases and logging on state land. The board deals with such hot-button issues as coal development and timber sales on state land, and also includes the governor, state auditor, attorney general and state superintendent.
McCulloch, however, said she expects the board's policies will remain about the same, since Democrats had previously held a 4-1 advantage.
"I don't see any significant changes," she said.
Johnson, 57, a Bozeman-area businessman before his election four years ago as the state's chief elections official, promising to accomplish more goals and oversee technological advancements.
"Good progress has been made toward bringing the work of the Secretary of State's office into the digital age, and I know (McCulloch) will find it an exceptional place to work," Johnson said in his statement.