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GOP Field for Governor Grows Even Larger
HELENA – A crowded Republican primary field vying for governor in 2012 is growing even larger.

A science fiction author and an anti-wolf activist became the latest GOP candidates seeking to replace Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who is leaving office because of term limits.

State Sen. Jeff Essmann, another Republican who has been eyeing the race for weeks, could be jumping into the campaign as well, saying he would make a major announcement later Tuesday.

Essmann would become the eighth GOP candidate if he enters the election.

Democrats have just two candidates, including state Attorney General Steve Bullock.

Earlier this week, Republican Bob Fanning of Pray, known for opposing the re-introduction of wolves and fighting their continued protection, began publicizing his plans to run. Real estate investor and self-published science fiction writer Drew Turiano filed paperwork Monday that would allow him to start raising money for a gubernatorial bid.

Better-known Republicans in the race include former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill who shot out of the gate late last year with plenty of support from party insiders and a strong fundraising lead; former state Sen. Ken Miller of Laurel, who is trying to rally tea party support with his cadre of green shirt-clad supporters; and former state Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings.

Consultant Neil Livingstone, frequently seen on cable television as a security and terrorism expert, has moved back to Helena from Washington, D.C., to mount a campaign with former Navy SEAL and current Whitefish state Sen. Ryan Zinke as his running mate for lieutenant governor.

In lieu of raising a lot of money, Chouteau County Commissioner Jim O'Hara is trying to distinguish his candidacy with hand-painted billboards in every Montana county featuring a rendition of the local country courthouse.

Fanning, a former businessman now known for leading the Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd group, said he will raise enough money to be competitive and promote his credentials as a fiscal and social conservative with a libertarian streak.

"I am the only candidate that can say he has donated pro bono the past 12 years of his life to the service of the state of Montana over this wolf issue," Fanning said.

Turiano, who worked on the unsuccessful 2008 U.S. Senate campaign of Mike Lange, said he hopes to be the most conservative in the crowded field. He said he opposes any type of abortion, even in cases of rape, and actively supports states nullifying federal laws they oppose.

Essmann is perhaps best known for leading the Legislature's crackdown on medical marijuana.

On Monday, state election officials verified that opponents to Essmann's bill had gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the 2012 ballot as a referendum. The medical marijuana industry wants to return to the law originally approved by voters in 2004, which opponents argued is too lenient.

Bullock, the Democrat, has been stockpiling money and using his high-profile position as the state's attorney general to gain attention on the Democratic side.

He is so far only challenged in his party's primary by state Sen. Larry Jent of Bozeman, who has lagged behind in fundraising and organizational support.
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