BILLINGS – Montana Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale plans to run for U.S. Senate, upending a race in which many national GOP officials already coalesced around a different candidate as they seek to unseat three-term Democrat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Rosendale’s intentions were disclosed Wednesday by two people close to the congressman. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly release details of the announcement expected at a state GOP gathering this weekend.
The move sets up a bitter June 4 primary battle between the firebrand conservative Rosendale and former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy, whose backers include Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and other prominent Senate Republicans.
GOP leaders are eager to unseat Tester as they try to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats, who hold a slim majority and will have several vulnerable incumbents on the 2024 ballot, including Tester.
Rosendale already lost to Tester once, in a 2018 bid for the senate. The Republican was serving as state auditor at the time. He was strongly backed by then-President Donald Trump, who had a personal grievance with Tester and visited Montana repeatedly after Tester derailed Trump’s Veterans Affairs nominee.
Despite Sheehy’s allure to national party leaders, Rosendale maintains strong support within Montana. Dozens of GOP state lawmakers last summer encouraged him to run. In the House, he represents a solidly Republican district covering most of eastern and central Montana, meaning he faced a relatively easy path to re-election to a third term if he wanted.
In Washington, Rosendale is among the House’s most hard-right conservatives and a member of the House Freedom Caucus. He banded with seven other members of his party in October to oust Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
He supports Trump, voted against certifying the 2020 election, and cosponsored legislation with Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz to defund Jack Smith’s investigation into Trump’s alleged storage of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Sheehy, 37, entered the race last June and quickly picked up support both from GOP officials in Washington and some leading Republicans in Montana such as Gov. Greg Gianforte and Rep. Ryan Zinke. He runs an aerial firefighting company, Bridger Aerospace, which he founded near Bozeman after moving to Montana in 2014.
This is his first run for public office, meaning he has no voting track record that could be used against him during the campaign.
Tester, 66, is a farmer and former state lawmaker who was first elected to the Senate in 2006 with an upset victory over the Republican incumbent, Conrad Burns. The Democratic moderate won his next two contests also by narrow margins, including a 3.5-percentage-point victory over Roesendale.
Money from outside groups drove up overall spending in that race to more than $60 million, shattering prior records for Montana elections. Advertising for the 2024 race already has begun to flood Montana’s airwaves.
Montana has veered sharply right politically since Tester first took office. He is now the only Democrat holding statewide office in the Treasure State.
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