Democrat Kathleen Williams pulled out an upset victory Tuesday to win her party’s nomination for the U.S. House. She will face Republican incumbent Greg Gianforte in the November elections.
Williams nosed out Billings attorney John Heenan who outspent her in the contest. Her victory comes as a record number of women have been nominated for office nationwide in this year’s primaries.
Williams received 37,344 votes, or 34 percent, of the ballots cast in the primary, while Heenan got 35,154 — 32 percent — in the five-way race.
With 24 percent of the votes, Grant Keir got 28,154, followed by former State Sen. Lynda Moss, John Meyer and Jared Pettinato. Moss withdrew from the race but her name could not be removed from the ballot.
Heenan overwhelmingly carried Hill County where County Democratic Chair Jacob Bachmeier was very active in the Heenan campaign. Heenan, who appeared several times on the Hi-Line, garnered 50 percent of the Hill County vote, compared to 29 percent for Williams.
Williams, however, carried Rocky Boy where she campaigned.
Heenen squeaked through a 172-169 victory in Blaine County, while Williams won handily in Chouteau and Liberty counties.
The race seesawed throughout the night, with Heenan finally conceding at 4 a.m. Wednesday. He congratulated Williams, saying he would volunteer for and contribute to her campaign.
“She needs all of us today and every day to win,” Heenan said.
Bachmeier, who said he said he was proud of his work for Heenan, looks forward to supporting Williams in the fall.
“I fought hard for a candidate who I believed in and a candidate who wasn’t afraid of rural Montana,” Bachmeier said.
Williams said she would hit the ground running with her campaign.
“Greg Gianforte certainly won’t wait to start the general election campaign, she said. “He has millions of dollars on hand and the ability to give himself millions more.”
Gianforte, a multi-millionaire high-tech entrepreneur from Bozeman, was unopposed in his bid for his first full term. He defeated Democrat Rob Quist in a special election in May 2017 to fill a seat vacated when Ryan Zinke resigned after President Donald Trump appointed him secretary of the interior.
Gianforte is considered a favorite in the race. University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, who rates the likely outcomes of congressional elections, says the race is leaning Republican. In Tuesday’s voting, the unopposed Gianforte gathered more votes in the GOP primary than all of the Democrats combined in the Democrat primary.