By Abbie Digel Editor, Big Sky Weekly

With the Montana Gubernatorial election less
than a year away, Montanans will face a tough
choice in selecting their next Governor. As Brian
Schweitzer’s final term whittles down, a large
crop of political and state leaders are emerging as
candidates, and voters from each party will have to
prepare for an active primary and general election.
The two candidates on the Democratic ticket are
front-runner, Montana Attorney General Steve
Bullock and Sen. Larry Jent. As of late October,
Bullock was ahead in a Project New West poll by
four points, with former U.S. Representative and
Republican front-runner Rick Hill trailing right
behind him.
Bullock’s lead could be attributed to Montanan’s
ability to recognize his name. According to the
New West poll, 61 percent of Montanans were
able to identify him, compared to Hill’s 50 percent.
Bullock has been attorney general since 2008,
where he has expanded public access to streams
and implemented a statewide DUI program.
He’s also got money in the bank. As of Oct. 23,
Bullock had a significant lead in fundraising with
$228,911 cash on hand, according to followthemoney.
org, a website that tracks money in state
politics. Jent is far behind with $2,250 cash on hand.
Rick Hill is the top fundraiser in the entire field
at $267,728. Hill, who served on the U.S. House
from 1996–2000, is a strong supporter of the
Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Canada
through eastern Montana on its way to the
Gulf of Mexico. “The pipeline’s presence…would
be an economic boost, create jobs, and provide an
opportunity to expand our energy industry,” Hill
said in a statement on Nov. 10 after the Obama
administration delayed the project.
Next in line after Steve Bullock in the fundraising
field is former Republican state senator Corey
Stapleton, who has a 5 percent approval rating.
Other Republican candidates are former state senator
Ken Miller, businessman Neil Livingstone, and
Montana senate majority leader Jeff Essmann, who
proposed Senate Bill 423 to reduce inappropriate
use of medical marijuana in Montana.
Montana State University graduate and current
Chouteau County Commissioner Jim O’Hara,
also on the Republican ticket, is gathering voters’
attention by painting his own campaign billboards.
The Helena Independent Record reported
that O’Hara painted one billboard for each of
Montana’s 56 counties, plus two extra for each
of the seven most populous counties, totaling
70 billboards. O’Hara also traveled to Montana’s
56 counties and took photos of each courthouse,
which he replicated with paint on plywood.
Ron Vandevender, a resident of Craig, Mont., is
running as a Libertarian. As a third party candidate
Vendevender will automatically move
beyond the primary into the general election.
In another poll published on July 5, 2011, Montana
Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger (R) was just behind
Steve Bullock in popularity for the open seat, but
as of press time, Bohlinger had no plans to run.
According to politico.com, the Montana governor’s
race appears to be the most hotly contested
in the nation, due to the large Republican field.
The Senate race between U.S. Senator Jon Tester
(D) and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) is also
one to watch, with both races (gubernatorial and
senate) putting Montana in the national political
spotlight.
The primary election is on June 5, 2012.