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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Technology entrepreneur Greg Gianforte says he has commitments from enough delegates to secure the Republican nomination for Ryan Zinke's former seat in the U.S. House, but another Montana contender said Thursday he doesn't believe Gianforte has the votes locked down.
Gianforte and Ed Buttrey are the apparent front-runners among six people vying to represent the Montana Republican Party in the May 25 election to replace Zinke, who was sworn in as U.S. interior secretary this week.
About 200 Republican Party members from counties across the state will gather in Helena on Monday to pick a candidate. Gianforte said Wednesday he has received commitments from 140 of those delegates.
"Over the last month and a half, I've had conversations with virtually all of them," he said. "I don't take anything for granted. I've earned their support at this point."
Buttrey, a moderate Republican state senator from Great Falls, said that may have been the case a month ago but not anymore. Since Buttrey and other candidates have been lobbying those delegates, some of Gianforte's initial backers have been peeled off, he said.
"It comes down to electability," Buttrey said. "The Ryan Zinke type that I am can carry the right, can carry the middle and a little of the left. That's what Greg doesn't get, that's why he didn't win the governor's office."
Gianforte lost his first run for political office last year to incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. However, the name recognition Gianforte achieved from that election could be an advantage for a candidate with less than 85 days to campaign before Election Day.
First, Gianforte must win the support of the party insiders who will pick the nominee on Monday. Gianforte appeals to the conservative wing of the Republican Party, and that base could be split at the convention between Gianforte and another right-winger, former state Sen. Ken Miller, which could provide an opening for Buttrey, said Montana State University political scientist David Parker.
Montana voted overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump, and a Democrat hasn't held Montana's only U.S. House seat since the mid-1990s.
"The Republicans, regardless of who they nominate, are in the catbird seat," Parker said.
The state's Democrats will hold their nominating convention on Sunday. Among the eight people seeking the nomination are popular musician Rob Quist, former U.S. Senate candidate Amanda Curtis and Kelly McCarthy, a state legislator.
Democratic Party chairwoman Nancy Keenan said protests across the nation and in Montana since Trump's election could reinvigorate Democratic voters this year.
"I think people have realized very clearly that elections matter and there are consequences to elections," Keenan said. "That's why we're seeing the activism now."
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