New legislative vote totals Thursday showed incumbent Sen. Diane Sands pulling away from her Republican opponent, and incumbent Rep. Adam Hertz falling behind his Democratic challenger.
Hertz, a Republican, was trailing Democrat Thomas Winter by 43 votes in House District 96 as of 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Each had 50 percent of the vote.
Sands, meanwhile, extended her margin over challenger Chase Reynolds in Senate District 49. Sands' lead grew to 347 votes, giving her a 52 percent to 48 percent edge over Reynolds.
The Sands-Reynolds contest was one of 2018’s most-watched and most expensive Montana legislative races.
Sands said she was "feeling good'' about her re-election chances Wednesday night, when she was only 58 votes ahead.
“I expected a close race,” she said Wednesday. “So many Montana races are won by margins like this. It’s why every vote counts.”
Reynolds, too, was taking the wait in stride. “I try not to get too hung up on the numbers right now,” he said. “They are what they are. … We’ll kind of just sit here and wait.”
The Senate District 49 race had the makings of a one-of-a-kind contest. The district binds together diverse voting demographics, stretching from western Missoula to the Idaho state line. Sands first won its Senate seat by just 35 votes in 2014. This year, she not only faced the challenge of appealing to both urban and rural voters, but also an opponent with star power: Reynolds, a former Griz and NFL running back.
A first-time candidate, Reynolds called for pro-business tax and regulatory policies, easing of housing restrictions, aggressive forest management and natural resource development. Sands, meanwhile, stressed public lands protection, small-scale agriculture, affordable health care and education.
She reported nearly $50,000 in campaign contributions, while Reynolds took in $17,500, making the legislative contest one of the most expensive in the state.
Hertz, 33, is making his first bid for re-election to the House, which he joined in 2017. He served on the Missoula City Council from 2012 to 2015.
Winter, 32, is a small business owner with no political experience.
House District 96 follows Interstate 90 from the western edge of Missoula to Remount Road. The district is on the south side of the interstate.
Missoula County Elections Administrator Dayna Causby had hoped to wrap up the vote counting Thursday, then shift to researching the 1,700 provisional ballots cast.
To be counted, questions involving the voter’s eligibility first must be resolved. Causby said they have until 3 p.m. next Tuesday to sort through those.
After that, the county will canvass — or certify — the election results before sending them to the secretary of state’s office.