Voters Set General Election Stage in Montana, South Dakota

by Jessica Taylor June 6, 2012 · 11:56 AM EDT

The stage is set for a competitive governor’s race in Montana this fall, with both Attorney General Steve Bullock (D) and former Rep. Rick Hill (R) easily dispatching with their primary challengers. We continue to rate the race as a Pure Toss-Up as Republicans try to take the governorship after eight years of popular Brian Schweitzer (D). Bullock is working to cast himself in the mold of Schweitzer, and will surely attack Hill for his years in Washington. But this is a competitive state that will host one of the country’s most competitive Senate races, and expect this to be a close fight.

In the state’s at-large congressional race, Republican businessman Steve Daines will face state Senate minority whip Kim Gillan (D). Gillan took 31 percent in the seven-way Democratic primary to win the nomination, but Daines goes into November with a heavy edge in the race to succeed Rep. Denny Rehberg, who’s locked in a competitive Senate race against Democratic incumbent Jon Tester. With the gubernatorial and Senate races taking up the political oxygen in the state, it’s tough to see how Gillan cuts through in the House race.

In politics, viral videos rarely translate to huge vote totals -- which South Dakota Democrat Jeff Barth learned the hard way on Tuesday.

It was former congressional aide Matt Varilek who cruised to a Democratic primary win over Barth, the Minnehaha county commissioner who created a buzz with an off-beat video that showed him sauntering down a wooded path and talking about his life.

Varilek, a former aide to Sen. Tim Johnson (D), had the establishment backing and the distinct money edge -- $240,000 cash on hand through May 16, compared to only $550 for Barth.

Varilek has an uphill fight this fall, though, against GOP freshman Rep. Kristi Noem. The Republican-trending state won’t be a target in the presidential race and doesn’t have any competitive races at the top of the ballot. If Democrats had succeeded in getting former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin to run again, this could have been one to watch, but Noem’s $1.2 million bank account won’t be easily overcome.