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In the most expensive race in Montana history, Republican Sen. Steve Daines won reelection against Democratic challenger Gov. Steve Bullock. The Associated Press called the race just before midnight Tuesday.

At the time, Daines led Bullock by six percentage points — 241,574 votes to 212,784.

Daines, of Bozeman, has been in the Senate since 2014. Before that, he was Montana’s lone representative in the U.S. House.

“We are so grateful tonight that the voice of Montana has been heard loud and clear,” Daines said to a crowd of supporters around midnight outside the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman.

Daines headlined a big night for Republicans in the state as Rep. Greg Gianforte won the gubernatorial race and Auditor Matt Rosendale won Montana’s lone U.S. House seat.

Bullock conceded and congratulated Daines in a statement.

“I ran for office 12 years ago with one goal in mind: to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives,” Bullock said. “I have been so pleased with how we have been able to bring people together in Montana — even when we don’t always agree — to improve the lives of our families and our communities.”

The race could help determine which party holds the Senate majority come January. Going into election night, Republicans held with 53 seats and 35 were up for grabs, with Montana’s race considered among the most competitive in the country.

“By winning this race tonight, we have saved the United States Senate from Chuck Schumer,” Daines said.

Daines will continue serving alongside Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

As Democrats sought to flip the seat and money flooded into the race, advertisements ramped up in recent weeks and months.

“Now, elections, they’ll be over tonight. The TV ads will stop. Your mailboxes will be free again,” Daines said. “And then it’s time to get together and come together as Montanans and as Americans to work to address the challenges we face.”

Throughout the campaign, Daines criticized Bullock, saying he’d vote in line with other Democrats in the Senate and calling him too liberal for Montana. Like he did at many campaign stops, Daines again pointed to his vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Tuesday night.

He also promoted his support for the Second Amendment, pro-life policies and lower taxes.

“Montana is a very special place,” Daines said. “Like you, I want to keep it that way.”

Daines aligned his campaign with President Donald Trump, who he held a phone rally with, and held a rally with Vice President Mike Pence in Belgrade in September. At the rally with Pence, Daines discussed his support for the energy industry and law enforcement. He’s also campaigned with Sens. Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, and Donald Trump Jr.

Daines worked for Proctor & Gamble and RightNow Technologies before entering politics.

On Monday, the state already shattered its previous turnout record of 516,901 for votes cast in an election with lots more flooding in Tuesday. The candidates were expected to spend about a combined $200 per registered voter, according to the Associated Press. As of mid-day Tuesday, nearly 750,000 voters registered, another record.

Both campaigns anticipated a close race entering Tuesday.

Bullock campaigned heavily on health care, public lands, education and campaign finance reform. He’s said he worked with politicians from both parties as governor, a style he hoped to bring to Washington D.C.

Bullock is termed out as governor. He joined the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in March 2019, said he wouldn’t run for Senate and then dropped out of the presidential race in December. On the last possible day to enter the Senate race in March of this year, he jumped in.

In 2016, Bullock won reelection as governor even as Trump won Montana by 20 points. Before becoming governor, Bullock was Montana’s attorney general for four year and practiced law before that.

Bullock has led Montana through the coronavirus pandemic, creating the state’s reopening plan but remaining in phase two of that plan since June even as cases spiked in recent weeks.

When Daines addressed the crowd, first at 10 p.m. before results were known and again after he won, his supporters chanted, “Six more years.” He waved back to them and left the stage.

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

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