A rare opportunity for a House race in which both nominees would be women has developed in western Montana.

Tippy Huntley, wife of the late NBC newscaster Chet Huntley, has emerged as the front-running candidate for the Republican nomination. State Sen. Dorothy Bradley, one of the legislature's most outspoken environmentalists, is waging a strong fight for the Democratic nomination.

Both parties have six-candidate fields in which Huntley, 47, and Bradley, 31, are the lone women. They are seeking to represent a district being vacated by Rep. Max Baucus, who is giving up his House seat in a try for the Senate.

Huntley, an avowed conservative from Big Sky, may have hurt her chances by a remark she made in an interview with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

"Washington prefers someone who is sophisticated and more aware of social concerns over the plain-speaking, blunt westerner," she said.

To which one of her stronger opponents, Missoula County Commissioner James Waltermire, replied: "Mrs. Huntley apparently thinks Montanas are not good enough to go to Washington. I feel we need more, not less, of those plain-speaking westerners. . ."

Bradley, of Bozeman, is considered an underdog in the Democratic race to state Rep. Pat William of Helena, who has labor support. But there are so many candidates in both parties that policicians here say that either race is too close to call.