HELENA, Mont. (AP) – Republican Greg Gianforte faces Democrat Mike Cooney in the race to become Montana’s next governor.

The seat is up for grabs as Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock was termed out and instead ran for the U.S. Senate.

Cooney, the current lieutenant governor, highlighted his four decades of public service, including two terms as secretary of state, and promised to defend access to health care and public lands. Gianforte, who serves as Montana’s lone representative in the U.S. House, promised to fix the economy using his business experience, which includes founding a start-up technology company in his hometown of Bozeman.

This is the second run at the governorship for both candidates. Gianforte lost his run against incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock in 2016. Cooney ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2000.

Gianforte, known for assaulting a reporter on the eve of a special election to the U.S. House in 2017, won that election and was reelected to the seat in 2018. The assault incident drew praise from President Trump, who endorsed Gianforte in 2020.

The candidates exchanged barbs throughout the campaign, with Cooney calling Gianforte a “New Jersey millionaire” and Gianforte calling Cooney a “career politician.” But both candidates embraced their identities, as Gianforte promised his business experience would position him to improve the state’s economy, and Cooney said his experience holding public office meant he could hit the ground running.

Gianforte’s career in the tech industry began in New Jersey, before he moved to Bozeman in 1995 and founded RightNow technologies, a company that was eventually sold to Oracle for nearly $2 billion.

Gianforte, a devout Christian who subscribes to creationist views, has donated millions of dollars through the Gianforte Family Foundation to various organizations, including groups that oppose abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

Cooney, the grandson of Montana’s ninth governor, was first elected to the Montana state house at the age of 21. He later served three terms as Montana’s secretary of state and two years as president of the state senate. He was named lieutenant governor in 2015.

The race was one of the few competitive gubernatorial races in the country, drawing in record contributions to both candidates. Gianforte also spent $7.5 million of his own fortune on his campaign. Both candidates were found in violation of the state’s campaign finance laws over the course of the campaign.

The campaign trail was shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, as Gianforte faced criticism for failing to consistently wear a face mask in the weeks leading up the election, even as COVID-19 cases in the state continued to rise. Cooney campaigned on the promise that he would protect health care access and enforce restrictions to limit the spread of the virus if elected.


Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.

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