HELENA – Several factors helped Democrat Steve Bullock eke out a narrow victory over Republican Rick Hill in the Montana governor’s race last week.
Bullock’s campaign had a superior ground game – the effort to get his supporters out to vote. A number of interest groups, motivated by their support for Bullock’s stands on issues and against Hill’s positions, made concerted efforts on his behalf.
Exit polling by CNN found that Bullock registered a stronger level of support from independents, unmarried women and Native Americans than Hill.
What’s more, Bullock enjoyed a higher percentage of support from fellow Democrats than Hill did among Republicans. Bullock got 95 percent of the self-described Democrats’ vote, while Hill had only 87 percent of those calling themselves Republicans, the exit poll showed.
Like unsuccessful Republican Senate candidate Denny Rehberg, Hill didn’t hold onto his party base, while Bullock and victorious Sen. Jon Tester grabbed nearly all of theirs, said David Parker, a Montana State University political scientist.
In addition, Bullock garnered more support from the more populous counties, a critical factor in any win.
Bullock, Montana’s attorney general, edged Hill, a former congressman, by 6,226 votes out of 478,798 cast. He defeated Hill 48.73 percent to 47.44 percent, according to unofficial returns. Libertarian Ron Vandevender grabbed 17,832 votes for the other 3.72 percent, likely taking more votes away from Hill than Bullock.
The final result reflected just how close the Bullock-Hill race had been since the match-up developed after the June primary. Although overshadowed by the nationally high-profile U.S. Senate battle, the governor’s race also drew plenty of interest from voters and groups, with Bullock and Hill debating seven times across the state.