Montana Democrat Monica Tranel announced Monday she’s seeking her party’s nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke in next year’s election, after suffering a close loss in 2022 to the former Trump administration Cabinet member.
Tranel is the first Democrat to enter the race for the state’s western House district, which includes conservative bastions such as the Flathead Valley and more liberal cities such as Missoula and Butte.
In a message that mirrors her platform from last election, Tranel, an environmental attorney from Missoula, told The Associated Press that corporations hold too much influence over Zinke and other Republicans at a time of rising costs for consumers.
“He’s not serving Montana. He is serving his corporate donors,” Tranel said. “For those of us who are in the middle, we don’t have anybody working for us and I will be that voice.”
Zinke was interior secretary under former President Donald Trump and resigned amid multiple ethics investigations. He was elected to the House last year with 50% of the vote versus 46% for Tranel and 4% for Libertarian John Lamb.
Zinke spokesperson Heather Swift said nothing for Tranel has changed since the 2022 election. In contrast, Swift added, Zinke has been “getting the job done for Montana” by sponsoring legislation aimed at removing protections for Yellowstone area grizzly bears, improving mental health care for veterans and maintaining access to national parks.
Over the past several election cycles, Montana voters ousted Democrats from almost every statewide office they once held as national issues like immigration, gun control and abortion came to dominate the state’s politics.
Yet Tranel’s performance last year showed she can run a competitive race and for next year she hopes to broaden her appeal among moderates who are willing to cross party lines.
“We’ve always voted to balance extremism, to have pragmatic leaders who get things done,” she said.
Zinke was the first person elected to Montana’s western House district, which was created for the 2022 election after the state picked up a congressional seat due to its growing population.
The former U.S. Navy SEAL had been considered a potential challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester until Zinke endorsed fellow Republican and Bozeman-area businessman Tim Sheehy for the post.
The primary election is June 4.