Former Rep. Rick Hill won the Republican nomination in the Montana gubernatorial race Tuesday, beating out a crowded GOP field to advance to a general election matchup with Attorney General Steve Bullock. With 52 precincts of reporting, the Associated Press has called the GOP race for Hill, who leads former state Sen. Corey Stapleton, 35 percent to 18 percent.
Bullock easily defeated little-known Heather Margolis for the Democratic nomination.
Hill entered the race as the favorite for the GOP nomination, but a lack of reliable public polling and limited television advertising left the result in doubt heading into the primary. Stapleton, the only other Republican to mount a serious television ad campaign, attacked Hill in the final weeks of the campaign, accusing the frontrunner of lobbying for a state income tax.
For months, Bullock, who has the support of popular Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, has been considered a strong favorite in the general election, but his perceived lead has been enhanced by the uncertainty on the GOP side. With President Obama expected to lose Montana by double digits in the presidential race, the gubernatorial race should remain close despite the strength of Bullock's candidacy.
Republicans will try to nationalize the race, linking Bullock to Obama and pointing out that he didn't join other states in suing the federal government over the health care law. Bullock and his allies will highlight Hill's years in Washington, as well as his subsequent work as a lobbyist.