By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
Former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who left his seat for a scandal-plagued tenure as then-President Donald Trump’s Interior secretary, has won the GOP primary in Montana’s 1st Congressional District, CNN Projects.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL and Montana state senator who was first elected to the House in 2014 and reelected in 2016 before resigning to join Trump’s Cabinet, seized on an opening created when the 2020 census results handed the Treasure State a second congressional district.
Rep. Matt Rosendale, who holds the state’s one at-large district seat, ran for reelection in the newly created 2nd District, where CNN projected he would be the Republican nominee, while Zinke campaigned in the 1st District.
Zinke prevailed over four other candidates in the primary, including former state Sen. Albert Olszewski and pastor Mary Todd. He overcame criticism from rivals to his right over whether he was sufficiently supportive of Trump and the former President’s effort to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
He has also faced questions about whether he lives in Montana after Politico reported last month that his wife had claimed a home in Santa Barbara, California, as her primary residence on tax records and other forms. Zinke’s campaign responded to the report by saying he lives in Whitefish, Montana, and that his wife had inherited and kept her parents’ former home in California, of which she is the sole owner.
Zinke left the Trump administration in 2018 in the face of multiple ethics inquiries, including the Interior Department’s handling of a Connecticut casino project, whether the boundaries for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument had been redrawn to benefit a state lawmaker and his compliance with government travel policies.
A government watchdog report released earlier this year found Zinke had violated ethics rules by being involved in negotiations over a land development project in Montana during his time in office and by failing to fully disclose his involvement after questioning from an ethics official.
Soon after the report was publicly released, Zinke tweeted: “Only in Biden’s corrupt admin is talking to my neighbor a sin. 15 years ago our family created a free and open space for people to enjoy in Whitefish.”
“We are proud of the children’s sledding park that dozens of kids use every weekend & countless locals use for exercise every day,” he wrote.
Zinke’s campaign website calls him “a Constitutional conservative who believes in the vision our forefathers laid out which protects individual liberties, separates powers between the three branches of government and ensures the rights of our states.”
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CNN’s Eric Bradner, Dan Merica and Gregory Krieg contributed to this report.