Former Congressman Denny Rehberg Announces Bid for Montana’s Eastern House District 

Rehberg joins an already crowded field of Republicans vying to replace incumbent Matt Rosendale, whose future is unclear

By Arren Kimbel-Sannit, Montana Free Press
A polling place at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell for the primary election on June 7, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Denny Rehburg, a Republican who represented Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013, is running for Montana’s eastern congressional district this year, he announced on a conservative news radio show Wednesday.

Speaking with Montana Talks host Aaron Flint, Rehberg touted his previous experience in Congress as an asset in an already crowded Republican primary. 

“I always say, I know where the bathroom door is, but I also know the system,” Rehberg told Flint. “I know how to make my way around. And really what you do in Congress is you build coalitions of like-minded people. And when you get 218, you win. And having the friends that I’ve got in Congress, there are issues that we need to work on, we can work together on.” 

Rehberg, who last served in Congress when Donald Trump was a reality television star, also trumpeted his support of the former president.

“I wanted to go back to Washington to help Donald Trump as president. I’m wholeheartedly behind him,” he told Flint.

Rehberg is the eighth Republican to seek election to Montana’s eastern district, a deeply Republican swath of the state that stretches from Helena to Montana’s borders with the Dakotas. Already, prominent statewide Republicans like Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen and state auditor Troy Downing have filed to run for the seat, along with a smattering of current and former lawmakers and others. 

What’s less clear are the plans of the seat’s incumbent, Republican hardliner Matt Rosendale. Earlier this month, Rosendale announced a widely anticipated run for U.S. Senate, a campaign that would see him challenge Gallatin County businessman Tim Sheehy and former Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson en route to a contest against longtime Democratic incumbent Jon Tester. But just days after his announcement, Rosendale dropped out of the race, citing Trump’s endorsement of Sheehy. 

In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Rosendale said he has yet to decide whether he will run for re-election in the House, a move that — given the advantage of incumbency and Rosendale’s name recognition — could scuttle the plans of the Republicans vying to replace him. 

“Rep. Rosendale will be announcing a decision soon,” spokesperson Aashka Varma told Montana Free Press. “This week he is working with several of his colleagues in the House and Senate to find solutions so we can fund government in a responsible and transparent manner ahead of the funding deadline next week.”

Chatter about a potential Rehberg return began circulating earlier this month when he told Politico that allies had encouraged him to jump in the race after some favorable polling. 

But Rehberg, a former cashmere goat rancher, fast food restaurant franchisee and real estate developer who has served as a co-chairman of Washington, D.C. public affairs firm Mercury since he left Congress, may find a lukewarm reception in the GOP primary.

“Montanans can smell a RINO from a mile away,” Arntzen said in a statement Wednesday. “Denny Rehberg spent his time in Congress acting like a Democrat by refusing to stand for conservative values and voting for massive overspending of our taxpayer dollars.” 

Rehberg first came to Washington to work for Montana Congressman Ron Marlenee in the 1970s. He later served as a lieutenant governor to Stan Stephens and Marc Racicot. 

As longtime Lee newspapers’ reporter Tom Lutey noted, Rehberg was considered a reliable conservative in Congress, voting against the Affordable Care Act, but still broke with the GOP caucus on some spending priorities important to the state. 

A pair of Democrats, Helena’s Kevin Hamm and Billings’ Ming Cabrera, are also vying for Rosendale’s seat.

This story originally appeared in the Montana Free Press, which can be found online at montanafreepress.org.