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After several months of contentious campaigning, there’s a new sheriff in Missoula County. Current Detective Sgt. T.J. McDermott won the Democratic primary by a wide margin Tuesday night, and as his campaign team read the final numbers aloud at the Depot around 11 p.m., McDermott sounded relieved at the lack of a Republican challenger on the fall ticket.

“The election’s over,” he said. “We know that at some point I will be the sheriff. I hope that the current administration will recognize that and have an amicable relationship with me and those I choose to have on my staff so that we can move the sheriff’s office forward.”

McDermott also confirmed that he’d be breaking with a longstanding trend in the department: He will not, as sheriff, be growing a mustache.

Tuesday’s primary elections were, like McDermott’s lack of facial hair, different. There’s change in the county attorney’s office, with former chief deputy county attorney Kirsten Pabst taking over for the embattled Fred Van Valkenburg, who did not seek reelection; Pabst defeated Josh Van de Wetering with more than 58 percent of the vote. County Commissioner Michele Landquist lost her re-election bid by little more than 600 votes in the Democratic primary to newcomer Nicole “Cola” Rowley. And down in Ravalli County, two of the three Republican commissioners who voted to appoint embattled treasurer Valerie Stamey failed miserably in trying to retain their seats. Ron Stoltz and Suzy Foss were defeated, while Jeff Burrows squeaked through to victory by fewer than 300 votes.

The ballots were cast a bit more predictably at the federal level. Republican Rep. Steve Daines easily secured his party’s nomination for a U.S. Senate seat. So did Sen. John Walsh, appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock to replace Max Baucus this spring. Former Baucus staffer and Missoula resident John Lewis kept past electoral spoiler John Driscoll at bay in the Democratic race for U.S. House.

Lewis’ opponent, however, raised some eyebrows. In the Republican primary for U.S. House, former Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke prevailed despite drawing heat from both the left and the right in recent weeks for everything from an inconsistent record on abortion to alleged coordination with a super PAC.

We may already know that our next sheriff will be clean shaven, but Walsh vs. Daines and Zinke vs. Lewis mean this fall is shaping up to get a little hairy.


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