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BOZEMAN – U.S. Rep. Steve Daines defeated Democrat Amanda Curtis Tuesday night in Montana’s U.S. Senate race, becoming the first Republican in 100 years to win the seat – and also helping his party win back control of the Senate.

The Associated Press and major news networks called the race seconds after the polls closed in Montana at 8 p.m., and Daines had a 12-point lead with about half the votes counted.

Daines was winning with about 55 percent, or 112,000 votes, to Curtis’ 43 percent, or 87,000 votes. Libertarian Roger Roots had 2 percent, or 4,000 votes.

In an interview shortly after being declared the winner, Daines said he’d heard from many Montanans who had “lost their confidence in the federal government,” and yearned for a change of leadership that would start addressing the nation’s problems, rather than be locked in partisan gridlock.

“They’re looking for leaders who bring skills from outside of Washington, from businesses, running small and large businesses, bringing those skills to Washington to solve the problems, of which we have a long list,” said the former executive of a Bozeman software-development company.

“I think we have to look at some pragmatic solutions that we can move forward with, with the president,” Daines said.

Daines said one of those priorities may be approving construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf Coast, through a corner of Montana. Another would be passing a federal budget that begins to balance, he added.

Curtis, a first-term state representative and high school math teacher from Butte, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Curtis became a candidate just 11 weeks ago, replacing Democratic U.S. Sen. John Walsh on the ballot after he withdrew from the race in the wake of revelations that he plagiarized a master’s degree final paper at the U.S. Army War College in 2007.

Minutes before the polls closed, Daines, speaking to supporters in his home town of Bozeman, sounded confident, saying “this is going to be a good night for Montana, and it’s going to be a good night for America.”

A few minutes later, Daines had been declared the winner, and national news networks reported that the Montana race had given Republicans their fifth pick-up of a Democratic seat, tying the Senate between the parties. Republicans later picked up seats that gave them the majority in the Senate starting next year.

As he spoke to a packed crowd at the Hilton Garden Inn at Bozeman, Daines said that Montana voters had spoken and said they were tired of Democratic leadership in Washington, D.C.

“Montanans want a voice in Washington that represents Montana and not President Obama,” he said. “It seems that America has maybe sent a loud message, that maybe (Democratic U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid needs a new job description, too.”

Daines, a one-term U.S. representative, looked like a favorite going into the race against Walsh, who was appointed to the position in February, and then became a heavy favorite when Walsh pulled out of the race in August.

Curtis began her campaign Aug. 16, after being nominated by state Democratic Party delegates to replace Walsh, and had an uphill climb to make herself known to Montana voters.

Daines became the first Republican to win this U.S. Senate seat since 1914, when Senate seats first became filled by popular election. The last Republican to hold the Montana Senate seat was Joseph Dixon, who was appointed by the Legislature in 1907. His term expired in 1913.

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