The Latest on Election 2018: Dutton’s lead in Sheriff/Coroner too much for Nelson to make up

At 12:30 a.m.

We’re going to call it a night here … with nothing much actually decided.

Tune in to Montana’s Morning News for a recap of where we’re at and what’s to come.

At 11:25 p.m.

While there are still lots of votes to count, Leo Dutton’s lead over Jay Nelson looks to be one that is insurmountable at this point in the race for Sheriff/Coroner of Lewis and Clark County.

Dutton was cleaning up from a watch party at about 11:15, and had just delivered some extra cookies to dispatch.

“I’m feeling very grateful and thankful for the voters who have given me another four years,” he said. “They recognize that my team and I do the best we can, and we know that they’re the bosses.”


At 10:55 p.m.

For the first time tonight, Matt Rosendale takes the stage at his watch party. He tells supporters here, “We’re almost there, folks. We’re almost there. … It looks like it’s going to be a long night.”

Not knowing how long it was going to take to see this thing decided, he wanted to thank his supporters.

He’s right. Folks over in Gallatin County just minutes ago finished getting through the line to vote. We’re going to be here a while.

At 10:40 p.m.

Results are trickling in, but things are slow.

There are reports of results being slow to get in to county officials because of poor weather conditions. In other locations, it’s a matter of numbers — because people were still waiting in line far past the official 8 p.m. close of the polls. If a voter is in line when the polls close, they are allowed to remain there until they’re able to cast their vote.

With 36.2 percent reporting, Sen. Tester is leading Matt Rosendale, 50.1 percent to 47 percent.
In the House race, Greg Gianforte leads, 51.3 to 46.

At 9:55 p.m.

Incumbent Senator Jon Tester is holding on to his lead with about one-third of votes counted. He’s ahead of Matt Rosendale 53-44 right now. The Republican Rosendale is winning Yellowstone County, with 48.5 percent reported, by just 63 votes. If he wants to compete, he’ll need to pull away more than that.

In the race for the US House, incumbent Greg Gianforte has pulled ahead for the first time tonight, and is now up on Kathleen Williams by about 350 votes.


At 9:30 p.m.

I-185 tightening and flipping here … now, the nos lead, 51-49.


At 9:15 p.m.

With not quite 16 percent of registered voters’ choices tallied, early numbers have Democratic incumbent Senator Jon Tester leading challenger Matt Rosendale 63-35. Libertarian Rick Breckenridge is pulling in two percent.

In the race for the U.S. House, challenger Kathleen Williams is leading Republican incumbent Greg Gianforte, 58-39. Libertarian Elinor Swanson is sitting at three percent.

In Lewis and Clark County, Leo Dutton is leading in the race for Sheriff/Coroner, outpacing challenger Jay Nelson, 72-28 with just under 19,600 votes tallied.

When it comes to Superintendent of Schools, however, things are neck-and-neck. Katrina Chaney has 9,482 votes, while Reg Hageman leads with 9,620.

On ballot measures, the 6-mill is well ahead, 65-35, and LR-129 is also up, 56-44.

The citizen initiatives will likely not be sorted out until well into the day on Wednesday, as multiple counties, including Yellowstone and Missoula, have multi-page ballots. The federal races take precedence when it comes to counting votes, so officials will start again on the second page of those ballots on Wednesday.

Early numbers have I-185 trending toward yes, 54-46, and I-186 yesses leading 53-47.

* * * 

More than $5 billion has been spent on political ads across the country this election cycle, and a fair chunk of that total has found its way to Montana.

The payoff for that expenditure comes tonight.

While there are still plenty of votes yet to be tallied over the next four or five hours – and then, likely, more to count when the sun rises, here’s where we sit as the polls close here in Montana.


In the most expensive U.S. Senate race in Montana history with more than $60 million spent, incumbent Sen. Jon Tester has been battling State Auditor Matt Rosendale.

He’s also, it seems, battling President Donald Trump.

With Air Force One as a backdrop, the president made a fourth trip to Montana in as many months over the weekend. Ostensibly, the visits have been in support of Rosendale, and to a lesser extent Congressman Greg Gianforte. But Trump has also not tried to hide the fact that he’s made Tester a target, and remains angry at him for the role he played in derailing the nomination of Ronny Jackson to head the Department of Veteran Affairs.

The ranking member on the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, Tester made public the testimony of nearly two dozen former White House medical staff members with varying, embarrassing claims about Jackson. When the Senate began to investigate the claims, Jackson withdrew his name from consideration.

A recent Montana Public Radio report pointed out that an investigation of Jackson by the Department of Defense is ongoing.

Tester has run on his ability to work with Republicans and get bills passed in a deeply divided environment. He’s also keyed in on Montana roots and values, which his opposition claims have been changed by his time in Washington.

Rosendale’s platform, by and large, has been that he’ll side with the President and do what’s asked of him by the administration. It’s a tactic shared, in large part, by Gianforte, who spends much of his time touting the benefits of Trump’s tax reform.

It’s also a strategy that’s resonating among the base, with multiple early voters at the rally in Belgrade over the weekend saying that they voted not for Rosendale or for Gianforte, but for the president.


The showdown between Gianforte and Democratic challenger Kathleen Williams, a former state legislator, has been largely overshadowed.

But Williams, a surprise winner in the primaries, has been criss-crossing the state over the last five months, turning to what now feels like the old-school politics of knocking on doors and shaking hands. She’s got a pile of notebooks in which she jots down things learned from the people she’s met, and her personable approach has helped to make the race far closer than many anticipated it would be.

Gianforte is the incumbent, but has only been in office for 16 months after winning the 2017 special election held when Ryan Zinke was tabbed by Trump to be the Interior Secretary. The Bozeman businessman found himself in the national spotlight after pleading guilty to assaulting a reporter who was trying to ask him a question the day before that election.

The assault has been praised by Trump during multiple rallies – though it was avoided entirely this past weekend.

The president went so far as to pantomime body-slamming someone during his Missoula stop, as he said that anyone who could do that was his kind of guy.

Williams used an audio recording of the incident in a campaign ad, saying “This is not us.”

Libertarian Elinor Swanson, an attorney from Billings, is the third candidate.


Incumbent Leo Dutton is taking on challenger Jay Nelson, a trooper with the Montana Highway Patrol, for the newly combined office of Sheriff/Coroner.

Dutton has run a campaign on the successes and relationships that have been made in the community over his decade in office – the highlight of which has been the passage of both a bond and a levy to renovate the Law Enforcement Center. This will bring the outdated jail up to code and increase capacity, and also is allowing the Helena Police Department and the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Department to relocate to a new office building downtown.

Nelson, the son of longtime county coroner Mickey Nelson, has said that the problem of drugs in our community is something that hasn’t been dealt with effectively enough, and that crime is skyrocketing as a result. He’s also criticized the amount of time it’s taken to make the changes and moves as they relate to the Law Enforcement Center.


As far as ballot measures go, things remain officially undecided.

A significant portion of the state’s votes come out of Yellowstone County, and officials there have said that there is a two-page ballot. With the nation fixed on Montana’s Senate and House races, the priority is being devoted to those pages – leaving others to be tallied Wednesday morning.


This would extend the state’s expanded Medicaid program, which serves about 96,000 people and is set to expire next year, and partially pay for it by raising the tobacco tax for the first time since 2005.


This would set new cleanup standards on future hard-rock mines, requiring companies to submit plans that prove their mines won’t require the perpetual cleanup of polluted water after operations stop.


This would extend a statewide property tax that benefits Montana colleges and universities by 10 years.


This would require that only a relative or acquaintance could deliver another person’s absentee ballot to an election office


Republicans have strong majorities in the state House and Senate, and Tuesday’s election isn’t expected to result in a change in party control in either chamber.

Twenty-five of 50 Senate seats and all 100 House seats are up for election. The GOP has a 59-41 majority over Democrats in the House and a 32-18 majority in the Senate.