Sheehy Takes Aim at Democratic Establishment, Tester During Kalispell Rally

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy was joined by former Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard during a campaign event on Thursday. Ahead of a competitive election against incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, Sheehy admonished the senator for his voting record and painted a picture of an America in peril.

By Denali Sagner
U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy speaks at his “Save America Rally” in Kalispell on June 13, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Bozeman businessman Tim Sheehy implored voters to “save America” and described his “common sense” agenda during a Thursday morning rally in Kalispell.

“This side isn’t even Republican,” Sheehy said, addressing a packed room of voters donning Republican paraphernalia and holding Sheehy campaign posters. “It’s the side of America.”

Sheehy was joined at Snowline Acres by former presidential candidate and Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who bolstered the Senate candidate’s message, criticizing Democrats, wealthy elites and the mainstream media. Gabbard served in the U.S. House as a Democrat and was the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee before leaving the party in 2022 to become an independent.

The rally marked one of many stops on Sheehy’s statewide tour as he attempts this fall to oust Tester, a three-term Democratic senator and farmer from Big Sandy. Despite the increasingly conservative nature of Montana’s political scene, Tester has held onto his position in the Senate, bolstered by his center-leaning policy stances and homegrown Montana bona fides.

The fate of Tester’s seat could decide the balance of the U.S. Senate, where Democrats currently hold a slim one-vote majority. The race between the senator and Sheehy is shaping up to be one of the most competitive — and most expensive — in the country, as both parties vie for congressional control.  

Kalispell State Rep. Courtenay Sprunger opened for Sheehy, calling for Tester’s “retirement” and disparaging diversity programs and transgender identities. Sprunger’s commentary marked a more right-leaning message than is typical of the state lawmaker, who earlier this month fended off an ultra-conservative challenger in the Republican primary.  

“When I get up and look at the news every single day, I’m not only mystified, I’m angry,” Sprunger said.

The lawmaker lamented diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the U.S. military and told attendees that Americans can no longer “define a woman,” tapping into an anti-transgender sentiment that echoed throughout the morning.

Met with a standing ovation, Sheehy called 2024 the most important election in recent memory and described the threat of the “possible extinction of the American dream.”

“America’s at a crossroads. There’s no other way to say it,” the candidate said.

Attendees applaud U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy at his “Save America Rally” in Kalispell on June 13, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Sheehy honed in on his military background, telling voters that the Biden administration and Democratic leadership are threatening constitutional rights won through years of American military strength. He chastised Democrats for the chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the increase in immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border and recent revisions to Title IX that sought to protect transgender students. The Biden administration’s Title IX revisions were blocked by a federal judge on Tuesday.

Tester has broken with his party on issues of border security during his tenure in the Senate. He became the first Democrat to co-sponsor a Republican-led bill last month that would require federal officials to detain undocumented immigrants who commit certain crimes until they are removed from the United States. 

Republicans, however, have hit the senator on immigration throughout the campaign cycle, attempting to tie Tester to the Biden administration’s border policy, which they describe as a “disaster.” According to POLITICO, a GOP-aligned PAC has spent over $15 million on advertisements criticizing Tester’s immigration record, including his vote for a bipartisan 2013 bill that would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country.

“This is about basic American values. This is about common sense,” Sheehy said of his policy planks.

Lynn Staloway, a Bigfork resident, told the Beacon that while she plans to vote for Sheehy in November, she showed up to the rally to hear Gabbard speak. Describing Gabbard as “really smart” and “practical,” Staloway said she believes the former congresswoman and Sheehy share the same goal to “save America.”

Gabbard during her remarks said that “the Democrat elite” are “willing to undermine and destroy the rule of law.”

Former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaks at Tim Sheehy’s “Save America Rally” in Kalispell on June 13, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

She said Americans are being censored in the name of limiting misinformation and hate speech. She doubled down on Sheehy’s and Sprunger’s anti-transgender rhetoric and tied the transgender rights movement to a growing tolerance of pedophilia.

The former congresswoman told voters that while Tester may be a homegrown Montana farmer, his record in the Senate “speaks volumes.” She cited Tester’s ties to lobbyists and PACs, telling the audience that Tester has the highest number of lobbyist contributions of any U.S. representative or senator.

Tester has received the third-highest sum of lobbyist contributions during the 2024 election cycle after Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, and former Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“I just don’t think that Tester has America or Montana’s best interests at heart,” Staloway, the Bigfork resident, said, citing Tester’s contributions from lobbyists and his $1 million home in D.C.

Tester and his wife Sharla in 2013 purchased a townhome in Washington, D.C., for $756,000. According to Zillow, the estimated value of the home is now $1.1 million.

Audience members hold signs at a rally for U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy in Kalispell on June 13, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Tom Lacerte of Kalispell said Sheehy seems “honest and truthful” and is “a hero in my eyes.”

Jim Riley, consultant and former manager for state Rep. Tanner Smith’s unsuccessful campaign for governor, said Gabbard’s message “resonates well with people.”

Of Sheehy, Riley described him as a family man for whom he has “a tremendous amount of respect.” Riley said Democratic messaging that Sheehy is an untrustworthy outsider may backfire. A large swath of residents have moved into the state since the pandemic, and pundits believe they may lean Republican come Election Day.

Sheehy during a Sunday debate with Tester leaned into his outsider status and criticized Tester for admonishing “folks [moving] into this state … with thick wallets … that drive up the cost of housing.”

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Tester and the GOP’s stances on immigration.