By BRENNA BRAATEN AND ERIN GALLAGHER
Rancher Cliff Larsen roped in a victory over small-business owner Kandi Matthew-Jenkins to be the next state senator for District 50.
Democratic Larsen, 65, defeated Constitution Party candidate Matthew-Jenkins, 58, by about 3,000 votes, though a few absentee ballots have yet to be to be counted. Larsen led Matthew-Jenkins, 5,224 votes to 2,217 at 12:30 a.m.
Larsen said he was not surprised by his substantial lead in the votes, declaring Matthew-Jenkins to be “a very unusual person running on a ticket that’s kind of extreme.”
“I think I represent the mainstream of Montana voters and people in my district,” said Larsen. “I think they want me to represent them in general for the positions that I take and that I hold.”
Matthew-Jenkins said she wasn’t surprised by her loss and attributed it to the “heavily progressive liberal district” in which she ran.
Larsen said that as a senator he will focus on health care, veterans’ benefits and senior citizens’ privileges. He said his “big issue” will be to get a portion of Montana tobacco tax revenues designated to Insure Montana, a program that helps small businesses offer employees health insurance. If it works out, Larsen said, the number of people the program covers could potentially double.
While Matthew-Jenkins does not know if she will run for office again, she said she didn't plan to stop working for political reform.
Larsen, who said he was tired from knocking on thousands of doors, plans to take it easy for a while.
“I feel like I really talked to the voters and I feel good about it," he said. "Now I’ll take a couple days off and just relax.”