BY MIKE DENNISON
(KPAX) More than 100 candidates for Montana office, from U.S. Senate to the Public Service Commission, paid their filing fees Thursday on this official opening day of the 2020 campaign season.
Some high-profile candidates for the top Montana races clocked in Thursday, including Democratic U.S. House contender Kathleen Williams and Supreme Court Justice Laurie McKinnon, as well as at least six dozen legislative hopefuls from across the state.
Candidates for U.S. Senate, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor and superintendent of public instruction also were among the earlier filers, paying the requisite fee to appear on the 2020 ballot.
But what’s considered the top 2020 race in Montana – the open governor’s seat – had none of its candidates file on this opening day.
Most candidates filed electronically with the secretary of state. But some still showed up in person, including state Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, who was at the Capitol before 7:30 a.m. and was first in line when the office doors opened at 8 a.m.
Candidate filing will close in two months, on March 9.
Republican state auditor candidate Troy Downing of Gallatin Gateway also drove to Helena to file, saying he just likes the idea of visiting the state’s political and physical Capitol.
“I’ve got a guy working on my campaign and he’s never actually been in the Capitol before, and he was talking about how neat it is to just pull up to the building and know what happened there,” he told MTN News. “I still have a little bit of that as well.”
Downing ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 but lost in the GOP primary. This year, he has competition in the GOP primary from Nelly Nicol, for the open auditor’s seat.
While Dunwell was the first to file in person, right behind her was Democratic attorney general candidate Raph Graybill – who walked down the hallway from his office as chief counsel to Gov. Steve Bullock.
Graybill, 30, was accompanied by his wife, Marisa, and their nine-month-old daughter, Genevieve. He’s one of several younger candidates vying for statewide office this year.
“The number of candidates in their 30s that are running for statewide office right now has got to be a record for the state, and I think that’s because everyone recognizes the stakes are so big in this election,” he said. “We know on both sides that so much could change after 2020.”
Five of Montana’s top eight statewide contests are open seats this year: U.S. House, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and governor.
Many of those races have contested primaries. Graybill’s opponent in the Democratic primary for attorney general, state Rep. Kim Dudik, also filed Thursday.
Williams, who lost the 2018 race for Montana’s only U.S. House seat, is back competing for the office, which is open because incumbent Republican Greg Gianforte is running for governor.
“It’s going to be different this time because we’re going to win,” she told MTN News after she filed. “I had a lot of independents and moderate Republicans voting for me last time … and we’re just going to build on that.”
Yet she wasn’t the only person, or woman, to file for the seat Thursday.
Republican Debra Lamm of Livingston came to the Capitol to pay her filing fee and declared herself the “grass roots” candidate among Republicans, saying that many in the GOP would like to see her take on Williams.
However, both Lamm and Williams have plenty of competition in the primary. Two other Democrats and five other Republicans are in the race – including a surprise entry Thursday, political unknown John Evankovich of Butte, as a Republican.
Other statewide candidates who filed Thursday include Democrat John Mues for the U.S. Senate, Republican Christi Jacobsen for secretary of state, Mike Black for Supreme Court (against McKinnon), Supreme Court Justice Jim Shea (for his own seat) and Melissa Romano for state superintendent of public instruction.