Rosendale sets up messy GOP primary in a must-win state

Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) launched a Senate bid on Friday and created a messy Republican primary in a must-win state — a move that Senate GOP leaders had been trying to prevent for months.

Rosendale, a conservative hardliner who joined seven other Republicans to depose Kevin McCarthy last year, had told colleagues for months that he planned to challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to a rematch. The pitched opposition from the National Republican Senatorial Committee or its recruitment of a wealthy military veteran did not deter him.

His entrance into the race ahead of the June primary sets up a heated brawl with Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL-turned-aerial firefighter who boasts an endorsement from NRSC Chair Steve Daines, a fellow Montanan. Rosendale has derided Sheehy as the handpicked candidate of the D.C. elite.

“I’m running against the Washington establishment — against Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell,” Rosendale said in an announcement video. He attacked his primary opponent for donating to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s campaign. Rosendale said he “stood with Trump” on Jan. 6, 2021 when he voted against certifying the 2020 election.

GOP leaders have waded forcefully into primaries this cycle, selecting candidates they feel are best positioned to win in November. Many of its recruits are also wealthy self-funders who can help them counter Democrats’ fundraising advantage. Rosendale posed an early threat to that strategy.

“It’s unfortunate that rather than building seniority for our great state in the House, Matt is choosing to abandon his seat and create a divisive primary,” Daines said in a statement. “Tim Sheehy has my full support because he is the best candidate to take on Jon Tester. Whichever party wins the Montana Senate seat will control the United States Senate in 2024, and Republicans cannot risk nominating a candidate who gave Jon Tester the biggest victory of his career.”

Montana is crucial to the GOP’s path to reclaiming the Senate. It is one of three Democratic-held Senate seats in states that Donald Trump won in 2020. The retirement of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin means West Virginia is an all but guaranteed flip. If they don’t retake the White House, Republicans just need to flip one more seat to win the Senate.

But GOP leaders have questioned whether Rosendale can beat Tester six years after his failed first attempt.

A Maryland native, Rosendale has been active in Montana politics for years, serving in the state House and the state Senate as well as state auditor. After losing to Tester in a 2018 Senate bid, he served one term in the state’s at-large House seat before running in his current 2nd District when the state got an extra seat in reapportionment.

Rosendale’s move toward a Senate run has been telegraphed for months. He’s been campaigning statewide and hired some staff. But his fundraising has been abysmal. He pulled in less than $100,000 in the last three months of 2023.

Anticipating a possible Republican-on-Republican matchup, a group with ties to Daines has spent to boost Sheehy in the state.

But it’s not just Republicans meddling. Another group, funded by the Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC, has also been attacking Sheehy.


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