UPDATE – Democrats Pabst and McDermott Win Primaries [VIDEO] [AUDIO]
As of 2:30 a.m. primary election results have Democrats Kirsten Pabst winning the Missoula County Attorney race, and Detective T.J. McDermott defeating the other two Democrats, Josh Clark and Bob Parcell in the race for sheriff.
Pabst, speaking from her law office in downtown Missoula, said it was way too early in the night to begin celebrating, but with a 58 percent to 32 percent lead in the early returns, the odds are that Pabst will be the next Missoula County Attorney, replacing the retiring Fred Van Valkenburg.
"I'm feeling really, really good right now, obviously we're optimistic, but I'm just really, really grateful to have my family and their support," Pabst said. "We just want to get through this day, and then tomorrow is a brand new day."
Pabst said she has enjoyed this, her very first foray into the political process, and has received what she calls a laundry list of suggestions to improve the county attorney's office from people she has met while campaigning.
"Part of the idea is to really open up the windows and let some sunshine in and invite some community participation in the process," Pabst said. "We're going to take those suggestions, we're going to keep on getting them, and we're going to get more."
Pabst was Van Valkenburg's chief deputy prosecutor for 17 years before she left to pursue private practice. Perhaps her most notable case as a private attorney was the successful defense of Montana Grizzly quarterback Jordan Johnson, who was found not guilty of rape in 2013.
Pabst's opponent in the race was fellow Democrat Josh Van De Wetering, who was heavily promoted by members within the current county attorney's office.
In the sheriff's race, as of 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, McDermott held a substantial 51 to 30 percent lead over his closest competitor, Josh Clark. McDermott was backed by the Missoula County Democrats, who actually changed their bylaws to enable them to endorse McDermott in the primary. Party leaders declared that McDermott was the only "true" Democrat in the race.
Neither McDermott nor Clark had returned phone calls as of 10 p.m. Tuesday night.
Because there were no Republicans running for either office, the primary will decide those two races in Missoula County.
Montana Secretary of State Linda McCullough said absentee voting is becoming much more popular with each election cycle.
"We did send out a record number of absentee ballots during the 30 days of late voter registration, almost 201,000 ballots," McCullough said. "It's a much more convenient way to cast your ballot, in that people can sit down at the kitchen table, look over the information they've been sent, and then come back and make a decision that isn't rushed, and feel they done a lot to be a well-informed voter."