Trump ally Zinke fights claim he’s too liberal for Montana

May 25, 2022, 9:41 AM | Updated: May 26, 2022, 9:10 pm
Montana U.S. House candidate and former Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, left, speaks with patrons...

Montana U.S. House candidate and former Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, left, speaks with patrons at Metals Sports Bar and Grill, May 13, 2022, in Butte, Mont. Zinke is seeking election to a newly created U.S. House district and has been criticized by some fellow Republicans in the GOP primary for not being conservative enough. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

(AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — When Republican Ryan Zinke first ran for Congress, the former Navy SEAL faced false accusations amplified by Democrats that his military career had ended in disgrace.

After winning in 2014 and two years later getting picked as President Donald Trump’s interior secretary, Zinke is seeking a return to Congress and facing a near-identical smear campaign — this time from the right wing of his own party.

A website allied with one of his opponents accuses Zinke of exaggerating his military service — failing to mention two Bronze Stars that Zinke earned in Iraq — and of being demoted, which his service records refute.

It’s part of a broad campaign by some Republicans leading up to the state’s June 7 primary to thwart Zinke’s bid for a political comeback and advance a more conservative candidate for the general election.

The political dynamics reflect the sharp right turn the GOP has taken since Trump barnstormed across Montana’s electoral scene with repeated visits during the 2018 election in a failed attempt to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

Zinke’s status as a former Trump Cabinet member is simply not enough anymore for some in his party. They say he’s too liberal and too soft on guns and didn’t do enough to build Trump’s envisioned wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Zinke has also been dogged by problems of his own making, including recent revelations that he lied to a federal ethics official before his 2018 resignation from the Department of Interior.

This month came a disclosure from Politico that Zinke’s wife, Lolita, designated her family’s California home as her primary residence. That boosted long-standing suspicions that Zinke spends most of his time outside Montana.

His opponents see a chance to make inroads with Trump voters, who seemed a lock for Zinke when he entered the race last year and quickly secured the former president’s endorsement.

“He quit Montana,” said former state Sen. Albert Olszewski, one of Zinke’s four primary opponents. “He quit Trump.”

Zinke is still acting as the front-runner, referring to himself as the “battleship” and other candidates as “canoes” while speaking to a reporter on the sidelines of a dinner last week hosted by Butte-Silver Bow County Republicans.

“Everybody wants to shoot at the battleship. Nobody shoots at the canoes,” he said.

Zinke denies lying. But he doesn’t deny that his wife is a California resident, and he acknowledges holding fundraisers there. He said he spends “a couple days a quarter” in Santa Barbara.

The Montana House district that’s at stake was created last year to account for the state’s growing population and covers half the state — from Yellowstone National Park, north along the spine of the Rocky Mountains, to the Canadian border.

The district had been eliminated in 1993. Montana Democrats lost the state’s only other House seat a few years later, and over the last several election cycles, Republicans took control of every statewide office in Montana except Tester’s.

Trump won Montana in 2020 with a 16-point advantage. The notion that Zinke quit him could prove hard to sell after Trump held a recent telerally with Zinke supporters reiterating his support. Trump spoke less than four minutes and spent most of the time touting his own accomplishments.

Montana Democrats spent the past six years painting Zinke as extreme, and he suggested the attacks on him in the GOP primary for being too liberal could help if he advances to the November election. It offers a contrast, he said, so moderate voters know he’s not “crazy.”

Still, he’s got much in common with his fellow GOP candidates. He’s refused to acknowledge that President Joe Biden was legitimately elected and has called for harsher immigration policies. He’s also backed by the National Rifle Association.

Democrats and his Republican detractors alike have highlighted the numerous investigations Zinke came under while at the Interior Department and the large paychecks he received when he later worked in the private sector.

The questions surrounding Zinke’s conduct haven’t put a dent in his fundraising success. Through March 31, Zinke had raised $2.5 million, almost as much as all other candidates from both parties combined.

About 80% of Zinke’s campaign contributions came from out-of-state donors, Federal Election Commission data shows.

For Republican voter Jennifer Howell, Zinke’s outside support “speaks of corruption.”

“That means he’s bought by outside interests. Money talks,” she said before the Republican dinner in Butte, as Zinke spoke with other local members of the party just a few feet away. “To me, that’s rude in your face, like saying, ‘I don’t need your money, Montana. I’ll get my money elsewhere.'”

Later, as the dinner drew to a close, 70-year-old Barbara Jones passed a donation envelope to Zinke and thanked him for hosting her at his table.

Despite the attacks on him, Jones said Zinke had behaved “like an honorable man.” She also praised him for returning to Montana after linking up with a Washington lobbying firm when he first left the Cabinet.

But Jones hasn’t decided whom to support in the primary. She first wanted to learn more about Olszewski and Republican candidate Mary Todd, a pastor from Kalispell who contends her son was killed after refusing to help a Chinese-backed firm steal U.S. technology. Also on the Republican ballot are contractor Mitch Heuer, of Whitefish, and Missoula teacher Matt Jette.

The $50 for Zinke, Jones said, was because “he paid for my dinner, so I wanted to pay him back.”

___

Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ap_politics.

___

Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter: @MatthewBrownAP.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

A Ukrainian serviceman inspects a kindergarten classroom with a sign "Z" on the door that was used ...
Associated Press

Drone attack hits Ukraine; US vows ‘consequences’ over nukes

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An overnight drone strike near the Ukrainian port of Odesa sparked a massive fire and explosion, the military said Monday, hours after the United States vowed to take decisive action and promised “catastrophic consequences” if Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The airstrike was the latest in a series of drone […]
1 day ago
Margaryta Tkachenko, 29 years old, feeds her 9-month-old daughter Sophia in the recently retaken to...
Associated Press

Hardship remains for Ukrainian town emerging from occupation

IZIUM, Ukraine (AP) — Rainwater is for showers and dishes. Scavenged wood is for the cooking fires. But almost nothing keeps out the autumn chill in homes without windows. Russian forces controlled Izium for six months before being forced to retreat two weeks ago in a Ukrainian counteroffensive. On one of the last days of […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in southwest, 6 killed

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani army helicopter crashed during an overnight mission in the country’s southwest, killing all six military personnel who were on board, including both pilots, the military said Monday. The crash took place in the district of Hernai, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province. […]
1 day ago
A worker cooks burgers at Zing Burger store in Budapest, Hungary, Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. Richard K...
Associated Press

Lights out, ovens off: Europe preps for winter energy crisis

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — As Europe heads into winter in the throes of an energy crisis, offices are getting chillier. Statues and historic buildings are going dark. Bakers who can’t afford to heat their ovens are talking about giving up, while fruit and vegetable growers face letting greenhouses stand idle. In poorer eastern Europe, people […]
1 day ago
FILE - A woman shows her ballot to journalists prior to voting in a referendum in Luhansk, Luhansk ...
Associated Press

Ukrainians scared by Russia’s preordained referendums

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — After seven weary months of war, many Ukrainians fear more suffering and political repression awaits them as referendums orchestrated by the Kremlin with help from gun-toting police portend Russia’s imminent annexation of four occupied regions. Many residents fled the regions before the referendums got underway, scared about being forced to vote […]
1 day ago
Villager women empty their cotton filled shawls on a pile after collecting it from cotton crops, wh...
Associated Press

Pakistan floods raise fears of hunger after crops wrecked

KHAIRPUR, Pakistan (AP) — Like every year, Arz Mohammed had planted his little patch of land in southern Pakistan with cotton. The crop would earn him enough so that, as he puts it, his family of five wouldn’t be reduced to begging. Then came the deluge. Pakistan’s massive floods this summer collapsed Mohammed’s home and […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Trump ally Zinke fights claim he’s too liberal for Montana