Zinke Appointment Would Open Up Montana At-Large Seat

Democrat Denise Juneau hasn’t ruled out another run for public office

Democrat Denise Juneau, who lost to Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke last month, says she’d like to stay in Montana but hasn’t closed the door on another run for public office. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke won re-election last month by 16 points, but now that President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly offered him the job of Interior secretary, there’ll likely be another race for the at-large seat. 

Trump won the state with 56 percent of the vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 36 percent, according to the Montana secretary of state’s office. Mitt Romney carried the 87 percent white state by a smaller 13-point margin. 

The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rated this year’s House race Republican Favored going into Election Day. But in their efforts to expand the map into red states, Democrats made a serious effort to contest this seat with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, the first Native American woman elected to statewide office.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put her on its Red to Blue list for competitive candidates and House Majority PAC — the super PAC dedicated to elected Democrats to the House — spent money attacking Zinke.

So could Juneau run again? In an interview on Montana Public Radio Monday night — the day before the news reports of Zinke being offered a job in the incoming administration — Juneau was asked whether she’d run for public office again anytime soon.

“If the answer was today, it would be no,” she said. But she then added, “I don’t ever take anything off the table. I think every opportunity should still be in play, but you have to. It takes a lot to run for office.”

Juneau, whose term as superintendent ends this year, said she wants to stay in the state and is interested in pursuing the presidency of the University of Montana. In her post-general election report to the Federal Election Commission, Juneau had $104,000 in her federal campaign account. 

Given Montana’s Republican lean, the GOP field for this seat is likely to be more crowded.

Potential candidates include state Sen. Elsie Arntzen, an elementary school teacher, who is set to become the first Republican superintendent of public instruction in Montana in nearly 30 years. Winning 52 percent of the vote last month, she’ll succeed Juneau, who was term-limited. (Arntzen ran for the House seat in 2014, finishing fourth in the GOP primary.)

Former state Sen. Corey Stapleton, the secretary of state-elect, could also run. Zinke defeated him in the 2014 Republican primary for the at-large congressional seat. Stapleton also ran unsuccessfully for the GOP gubernatorial nod in 2012. 

GOP sources also cite outgoing state Senate Majority Leader Matt Rosendale, the state auditor-elect, as a possible contender.

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