Republican Greg Hinkle said he was optimistic that he’d nailed down a victory Tuesday against former Rep. Paul Clark, D-Trout Creek.
As of 1:15 a.m. Wednesday, Hinkle maintained a 954-point lead over Clark, 5,231 to 4,277.
Mineral County reported that Hinkle, a retired handyman from Thompson Falls, won the county race with 961 votes to Clark’s 945. With nine out of 10 precincts in Sanders County reporting, Hinkle led Clark with 3,184 votes to 2,519 votes. Missoula County reported that Hinkle maintained the lead with 1,086 votes to Clark’s 813 votes with six out of seven precincts reporting.
According to the Missoula County elections office, final absentee ballots may not be counted until around 4 a.m. because of the large amount of ballots received. Sanders County is also waiting on final absentee results because of technical issues.
“It’s not over ‘til it’s over,” Hinkle, 62, said of the close race.
Clark, 58, an educator and conservationist, said he didn’t know how to feel, noting that he was “a little down” in Missoula and Mineral Counties. Clark said that the race is similar to the primary election when Clark’s winning votes came from the last precincts in Sanders County late in the race.
“I feel like I’m right there,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll get those votes, but that’s where I’m at.”
Though Clark wouldn’t comment until all results were final, Hinkle said he was optimistic.
“No matter the outcome,” Hinkle said, “I still win.”