Ryan Zinke wins GOP nod in race for new Montana House seat

·2 min read

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke won an unexpectedly tight race Thursday to become the Republican nominee in the race for a new U.S. House seat representing western Montana, a victory that comes after days of hand-counting ballots in one county.

Zinke defeated former state Sen. Al “Doc” Olszewski by just over 1,600 votes out of 84,500 cast in the race, or 1.9 percentage points, according to preliminary numbers.

Zinke was one of five Republicans on the primary ballot for the open seat, which Montana gained this year thanks to its growing population.

Zinke served as Interior Department secretary under then-President Donald Trump, and his rivals have been drawing attention to a troubled tenure that was marked by multiple ethics investigations. One investigation determined Zinke lied to an agency ethics official about his continued involvement in a commercial real estate deal in his hometown. Federal prosecutors declined to pursue criminal charges.

Despite Trump’s endorsement, Zinke also faced a smear campaign over his military service from the extreme right wing of his party and questions about his residency following revelations that his wife declared a house in California as her primary residence, qualifying her for a tax break.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, was considered a de facto incumbent since he twice won elections for the state’s other House seat before stepping down in 2017 to join the Trump administration.

Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon and hardline conservative, tried to paint Zinke as a “liberal insider.”

The outcome in the close race was delayed after Lincoln County realized a vendor had printed ballots on the wrong sized paper, meaning they could not be run through a machine tabulator and had to be counted by hand. The hand count began Tuesday and wrapped up late Thursday afternoon.

Zinke outpolled Olszewski in Lincoln County by 428 votes in unofficial results.

In November, Zinke will face Olympic rower and attorney Monica Tranel, who won the Democratic primary for the U.S. House seat.

The Associated Press

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