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Montana Gov. Gianfort faces a primary challenge for not being conservative enough

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Montana's primary election is today. While Republican Governor Greg Gianforte has favored to win again, his conservative credentials are being challenged in ways that highlight tensions within his party. Here's Montana Public Radio's Shaylee Ragar.

SHAYLEE RAGAR, BYLINE: When then-President Donald Trump visited Montana in 2018, he called then-Congressman Greg Gianforte his kind of guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of guy.

RAGAR: He's referring to how Gianforte tackled a journalist the night before he was elected to Congress the year before. Gianforte eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. Then he was elected governor in 2020 by double digits. Gianforte is a multimillionaire who made his fortune as a tech entrepreneur. He's also a devout Christian who's donated to religious private schools and a creationist museum. Democrats accuse him of being an extremist. His likely challenger in November, Ryan Busse, criticizes Gianforte for signing tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, anti-abortion policies and vouchers for private school families.

RYAN BUSSE: I think it's something that's being done by a small cadre of radicalized Republicans and by this governor.

RAGAR: But some Republicans say Gianforte isn't conservative enough. State Representative Tanner Smith is challenging him in this year's primary election. Smith pointed to Gianforte's proposal to invest in affordable housing projects.

TANNER SMITH: This guy is not a Republican. Because those are not Republican principles.

RAGAR: Gianforte's faced criticism from the right wing of his party for allowing property taxes to rise and for backing Medicaid expansion. It's not the only race this fall that will show where the state stands. Three-term Democratic Senator Jon Tester will likely face a stiff Republican challenge. But Gianforte's primary highlights a split inside the GOP. He's built a power base with some more moderate Republicans, part of what they call the Solutions Caucus. Meanwhile, some of the party's more right-wing members, including the House speaker, don't get Gianforte's endorsement. Here's Gianforte.

GREG GIANFORTE: We looked at voting records. We looked at collaborative efforts with us, and I endorsed people that were good partners.

RAGAR: Republicans have surged in popularity in Montana in recent years. Before Gianforte won in 2020, Democrats held Montana's governorship for nearly two decades. Now, whoever comes out of the Republican primary will be favored against Busse this fall.

For NPR News, I'm Shaylee Ragar in Helena. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.