Daines says Obama must cooperate with Republican-led Congress after midterm vote

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HELENA, Montana — Steve Daines, Montana's newly elected U.S. senator, said he sees the top priorities of a Republican-controlled Senate as approving construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, passing a balanced budget and reining in federal regulations.

To really move the nation forward, the Bozeman Republican said, President Barack Obama will have to cooperate with GOP leaders in the way that former President Bill Clinton worked with a Republican Congress to pass budgets with surpluses in the 1990s.

"The president is not popular in our country, so the president needs to decide whether he will work with Congress and whether he wants to leave a legacy of accomplishing something," Daines said.

Daines, a first-term representative in the U.S. House, defeated Democrat Amanda Curtis and Libertarian Roger Roots in Tuesday's midterm election to help the Republican Party pick up enough seats to take control of the Senate from the Democrats.

In the U.S. House race, Ryan Zinke beat Democrat John Lewis and Libertarian Mike Fellows to keep Daines' seat in Republican hands. The GOP also was looking to keep its majorities in the state House and Senate with 125 of 150 legislative seats up for election.

The results mean U.S. Sen. Jon Tester will be the sole Democrat in Montana's three-member congressional delegation when Zinke and Daines take office in January.

Daines said he is confident that he and Tester will be able to work together on legislation important to residents of Montana. Zinke said he will work with anyone whose goal is to fix the nation.

Besides a balanced budget and approval of the oil pipeline from Canada, Daines said he wants the Senate to pass a bill that would require a federal agency to go through Congress to pass any regulations that would affect the economy by $100 million or more.

However, Daines said he does not believe Republicans continuing to vote to repeal the nation's health-reform law will have any effect.

"I support the repeal of Obamacare, but I think the reality is the president won't support that," Daines said. "I think we're going to have to find legislation the president will support."

Zinke said his priority is to end the nation's dependence on other countries for energy, and that he will seek a spot on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

"I plan to hit the ground running and will work to control government spending, grow the economy, and promote energy independence," Zinke said.

In other statewide races, incumbent Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat fended off a challenge from former state solicitor general Lawrence VanDyke in a race that saw hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into television ads and mailers by outside groups.

That prompted Wheat to say the state's court system was under attack from groups seeking rulings in favor of their political leanings.

In a second Supreme Court race, Billings attorney W. David Herbert failed to unseat Justice Jim Rice, who has been on the bench since 2001.

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