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Sen. Steve Daines wins in Montana, a must-hold seat for Republicans

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock failed to pull off an upset in Montana and unseat Republican Sen. Steve Daines.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines holds his seat against challenger Gov. Steve Bullock.
Tommy Martino/AP
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

In the battle of Steves for US Senate in Montana, Republican incumbent Sen. Steve Daines has retained his seat despite a notable challenge from Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

Daines, 58, was elected to the US House of Representatives in 2012 and then to the US Senate in 2014. He currently serves on the Senate Committees on Finance, Appropriations, Energy and Natural Resources, and Indian Affairs. Before getting into politics, he spent much of his career in the private sector, first at Procter & Gamble and then at RightNow Technologies.

As Vox’s Ella Nilsen explained before the election, Daines is generally well-liked in Montana, which tends to lean conservative. He, like many Senate Republicans, tied himself pretty closely to President Donald Trump over the past few years, including voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017 even after Montana voted to expand Medicaid in the state under the ACA in 2015. According to FiveThirtyEight, Daines votes with the president about 86 percent of the time. And he, also like many Senate Republicans this election cycle, made some late efforts to distance himself from the president.

The issue in this race wasn’t so much whether or not Montana voters liked Daines — it’s that they also like Bullock, their term-limited governor. Democrats hoped so much so that he’d be able to flip Daines’s seat blue and that Montana would wind up with two Democratic senators, Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester.

“I think most Montanans — and people in most states — are 60-70 percent in the middle,” former Montana Sen. Max Baucus (D) told Nilsen. “What most people really care about [is] are you trying to do what’s best for us?”

Heading into the election, the Daines-Bullock matchup was incredibly close. The Cook Political Report rated it a toss-up, and Sabato’s Crystal Ball had it in the Lean Republican column. The race was also expensive, as Democrats poured money in hoping to flip the seat: During the third quarter, Bullock raised $26.8 million compared to $7.8 million for Daines.

Bullock, 54, worked in both public and private legal practices early in his career and has a long political history in Montana, serving as its attorney general from 2009 to 2013 and then as governor from 2013 to 2020. He made a short-lived bid for the White House in the 2020 Democratic primary and then spent months saying he had no interest in joining Congress before finally announcing he would indeed run.

Daines’s seat was a must-win for Republicans looking to hold on to the Senate, and they weren’t shy about it. Ahead of the election, Daines said just that in an interview with Fox Radio’s Brian Kilmeade: “If I lose this seat here in Montana, we lose the majority.”