No shocker here: GOP stalwart Denny Rehberg has easily won his party’s nomination for U.S. House.
The anti-incumbent sentiment affecting some of the statehouse races this election season skipped Rehberg, who now faces former Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald in the Nov. 2 general election. Mike Fellows, the perennial Libertarian candidate will also be on the ballot in November.
Rehberg fended off challenges from the left and the right in his first-ever GOP House primary. A.J. Otjen, the most liberal of the three Republican candidates, fared the worst Tuesday night, garnering a mere 6 percent of the vote as of 11:30 p.m. Mark French, the right-wing self-described “constitution candidate” pulled in 19 percent of the vote. Rehberg had 75 percent of the vote with 620 of 792 precincts reporting.
"I don't think that anybody missed the message that the electorate and Montanans, as well, are upset with the direction of the country," Rehberg said Tuesday night from Washington, D.C. "I just appreciate Montanans giving me a vote of confidence to carry the banner forward."
For his part, McDonald, the early favorite in the Democratic race for the nomination, fended off a late surge by 28-year-old Missoula attorney Tyler Gernant. Gernant made a big push in the final weeks, raising more money than McDonald in the final reporting period. He was also the favorite of Montana’s Democratic bloggers, but in the end McDonald captured about 39 percent of the vote. Gernant had 24 percent of the vote, and Great Falls paralegal Melinda Gopher had 20 percent. Sam Rankin, a Billings real estate broker who jumped into the race late, took about 17 percent of the vote.
As the Associated Press pointed out, McDonald wasted no time in attacking Rehberg late Tuesday night:
"He's a professional politician who's been asleep in his office for the last 10 years. He's offered no ideas, no solutions, no hope," McDonald said. "I'm just going to go out across Montana as I've been doing and tell the voters what I'm about. They already know that Rehberg has done absolutely nothing."
Now that the field is set Democrats will no doubt try to make political hay over Rehberg’s involvement in a late night Flathead Lake boat crash last summer that left Rehberg and two of his staff members seriously injured.
Republicans, meanwhile, are chomping at the bit to resume their attacks on McDonald for once representing organized crime figure-turned mob informant Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno back when McDonald was an attorney in California.
Unlike 2008, when Democratic nominee John Driscoll actually endorsed Rehberg before the election, expect the 2010 race for Montana’s U.S. House Seat to be a bloody, and muddy, battle.