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Montana candidates look forward to campaigning in person

by Amy Beth Hanson & Iris Samuels
| June 4, 2020 7:40 AM

HELENA (AP) — Montana candidates who advanced to the general election said they’re looking forward to the time when they can get back on the campaign trail rather than relying on phone calls to reach voters under directives in place to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Montanans expect you to show up in every corner of the state,” Bryce Bennett, who won the Democratic primary for secretary of state, said Wednesday. “They want to be able to look you in the eyes, shake your hand and get a sense of what leadership you’ll bring to the office.”

Bennett will take on Deputy Secretary of State Christy Jacobsen, who won the Republican primary, in the November election.

Bennett said his key issues are pushing back on out-of-touch politicians who want to make it harder for Montanans to cast their ballots and to ensure it’s easy and convenient for businesses to register with the state.

Jacobsen, a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, said she would continue to fight for clean and fair elections. She said she was concerned that polling places were closed for the primary because the state used an all-mail election. The voter turnout was similar to 2016, she said Wednesday.

More than 87,600 additional votes were cast during the 2020 primary than in 2016. The number of votes cast in the U.S. House race was up by 49% for the Republican candidate and 32% for the Democratic candidate. The statewide turnout for the 2016 primary was more than 45% of registered voters while turnout for the 2020 primary was nearly 55%, the secretary of state’s office said.

Democrat Raph Graybill and Republican Austin Knudsen will square off in the attorney general’s race.

Graybill, chief legal counsel to Gov. Steve Bullock, said his key issues are ensuring preexisting medical conditions continue to be covered under the Affordable Care Act, that the state fights increasing prescription drug prices, and that the attorney general is proactive in helping to open up more public land.

Knudsen, a former speaker of the state House, said he would direct more of the office’s budget to local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to address meth trafficking and resulting violent crimes.

Graybill and Knudsen said they would continue state efforts to battle opioids and the effort to improve the state’s response to missing indigenous people.

“We have to keep our eyes on the prize here and know what’s causing that and it’s the same people who are trafficking in this meth,” Knudsen said. “All that stuff is tied into the Mexican cartels as well. They’re trafficking these girls. There’s no question about it.”

Republican Troy Downing and Democrat Shane Morigeau will meet in the race for auditor and state insurance commissioner.

Downing, who has not held public office, said he would focus on watching out for Montana consumers. He said his business background helps him understand when regulations are not protecting consumers and making it hard for businesses to thrive.

Morigeau, a member of the state House, emphasized healthcare access and public lands protection.

The contest for superintendent of public instruction is a rematch of the 2016 race between Republican Elsie Arntzen and Democrat Melissa Romano.

Arntzen, the incumbent, said she would continue to advocate for local control of schools while Romano said she would work to bring public preschools to the state and provide mental health services for students and teachers in public schools, especially with the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s imperative that we have a leader in the office who will show up at the Legislature and be an advocate for our students,” Romano said. “That was sorely lacking in the last two legislative sessions with the current superintendent.”

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Voters drop off their ballots Tuesday outside the City-County Building during Montana's primary election Tuesday, June 2, 2020 in the City-County Building Tuesday in Helena. Montana’s June 2 primary is being held by mail because of the coronavirus. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)