HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The $47 million U.S. Senate race between Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Denny Rehberg was Montana's top news story of 2012, according to The Associated Press' annual poll of state editors.
The 2012 election dominated the year's top stories, with five of the top 10 involving the senate and gubernatorial races, Republicans' failure to make expected electoral gains, the role of secretive money in campaigning and a referendum on medical marijuana restrictions.
Editors overwhelmingly chose the bruising Tester-Rehberg campaign as the year's biggest story in polling that ended Dec. 17. On a scale of points ranging from 10 for first place to one for 10th place, the Senate election tallied 112 points, compared to the next-highest total, 77 points to both the rape scandal surrounding the University of Montana and the kidnapping and killing of Sidney teacher Sherry Arnold.
Here are Montana's top 10 stories, in order:
1. SENATE RACE: Tester defeated Rehberg in November to win a second term in the U.S. Senate and solidify Democratic control of that chamber. The campaign was the most expensive in state history, including $21.4 million spent by the candidates and more than $25 million spent by unions, business groups and partisan committees. Tester won 49 percent of the vote compared to Rehberg's 45 percent, with Libertarian Dan Cox's 6 percent playing a role in the outcome.
2 (tie). MISSING MONTANA TEACHER: Sidney High School teacher Sherry Arnold disappeared in January after going for a morning jog in the Bakken boom town. A three-month multistate search ended when Arnold's body was found in a shallow grave in North Dakota, and two Colorado men were charged with her kidnapping and murder. Arnold's slaying prompting law enforcement agencies to discuss how to better coordinate and deal with the effects of the Bakken oil boom in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.
UNIVERSITY SEXUAL ASSAULT: The U.S. government and the NCAA opened investigations this spring after the University of Montana and the city of Missoula were criticized for how they responded to reports of sexual assault. At least 11 sexual assaults involving university students were reported over an 18-month period. Some allegations involved university football players, with former quarterback Jordan Johnson charged and former running back Beau Donaldson awaiting sentencing.
4. CAMPAIGN FINANCE: So-called "dark money" flooded into Montana this campaign season as outside groups bought television ads and flyers with little disclosure from where their money came. A legal challenge of the state's campaign laws led to the temporary suspension of campaign contribution limits and opened the door for a $500,000 donation to Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill. Earlier in the year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state's century-old ban on some corporate politicking.
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