Brad Johnson, the former Public Service Commission chair and Montana secretary of state, announced Tuesday he is entering the Republican primary for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Jon Tester.
Johnson is the highest-profile candidate to enter the race on the Republican side since Bozeman businessman Tim Sheehy declared his candidacy, backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and several of the state’s top Republican elected officials. Another Republican candidate, Jeremy Mygland, dropped out last weekend to run for state Senate.
Rumors have also kicked around for months that U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., will run for the seat again after losing to Tester in 2018, but he has not declared his candidacy.
Johnson appeared to take jabs at both Sheehy and Rosendale in his campaign launch announcement.
“I am running because this isn’t an election we can relegate to slick DC gimmicks nor second chances with failed candidates,” Johnson said in a statement.
It’s the second time Johnson has run in a U.S. Senate primary. In 2002, he took home 17.8% of the votes in the Republican primary, losing to Mike Taylor. He also ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Pat Williams in 1990.
But he won a three-way Republican primary for secretary of state in 2004, then defeated Democrat Bill Kennedy in the general election 51%-49%, winning by less than 9,000 votes.
He served in that role for four years before he was defeated by Democrat Linda McCulloch by around 5,000 votes in the 2008 election. McCulloch again beat Johnson in the 2012 election for the same seat.
Johnson was elected as the District 5 Public Service Commissioner in 2014, then considered running for governor in 2016 but declined to do so once Greg Gianforte announced his candidacy.
Johnson was re-elected to the PSC in 2018, then ran in the Republican secretary of state primary again in 2020, coming in third behind Scott Sales and Christi Jacobsen, who went on to win the general election.
Johnson served out his term with the PSC through the beginning of this year. But in December, he put his name in the hat to be considered for the Commissioner of Political Practices job. After a legislative committee interviewed him and other candidates, they opted to let the governor pick his nominee.
The COPP in 2017 fined Johnson $3,000 for an ethics violation because he used PSC resources to draft and review a letter to the editor about a PSC candidate he opposed.
Johnson’s campaign said as the lone Republican holding statewide office during his secretary of state tenure, he was “guided by his conservative values and strong faith” and said his four years in the office were “marked by integrity, transparency, and a relentless pursuit of the interests of the people of Montana.”
In a statement, Johnson said Montanans are “losing our country.”
“It is time for real leadership that shoots straight with Montanans, understand our values, and gets things done for our future,” he said. “I will be that candidate and look forward to working hard to earn that opportunity over the next few months.”
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