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Republican Matt Rosendale Challenging Montana’s Jon Tester

State auditor could still face a crowded GOP primary

Montana State Auditor Matt Rosendale announced on Monday he’s challenging Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Montana State Auditor Matt Rosendale announced on Monday he’s challenging Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Montana State Auditor Matt Rosendale is challenging Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, he announced Monday. 

His announcement video begins with an image of the Capitol Dome’s shadow over Montana scenery, with the narrator decrying an “intrusive federal government run by insiders, liberals and big spenders.”

“President Trump and Mike Pence are fighting back, but they need help,” the narrator says, introducing Rosendale as the conservative “rancher, businessman [and] proven leader” who can come to the administration’s aide. 

Rosendale’s not the first Republican to enter the race, but he’s been considered a top pick by local and national Republicans after several top recruits passed on the race. He shares Tester’s signature flattop haircut, prompting one Republican to say, he “screams Montana.”  

The Club for Growth PAC endorsed Rosendale several hours after his announcement, calling him “the kind of economic conservative we need in Washington today.”

But Rosendale isn’t without liabilities. He only moved to the state in the early 2000s, from Maryland.

In 2010, he was elected to the state House and in 2012, he was elected to the state Senate. He was elected majority leader in 2014. 

Rosendale ran for Congress in 2014, coming in third in the GOP primary. He loaned his campaign $1 million for that race and didn’t actually raise much money. His campaign account was $217,000 in debt as of June 30. 

During that race, he earned national attention for a spot in which he shoots down a drone, playing up his libertarian streak. Rosendale’s working with OnMessage Inc., the same firm he worked with in 2014.

Democrats seized on Rosendale’s announcement, attacking his tenure as state insurance commissioner.

“He’s not a voice for Montanans, he’s another vote to take away health care from thousands of Montanans and another politician interfering with a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions,” said Chris Meagher, senior communications adviser for the Montana Democratic Party. 

Rosendale could still face a competitive primary. State Sen. Al Olszewski and businessman/Air Force veteran Troy Downing are already in the race. Downing has the ability to self-fund. He loaned his campaign $100,000 in the 2nd quarter, ending with $155,000 in the bank. Olszewski ended the 2nd quarter with $31,000.  

Russell Fagg, a district court judge in Billings, has formed an exploratory committee and has been raising money despite being a sitting judge. He plans to retire from the bench in October, when he’ll make a final decision about running for Senate. 

Regardless of their nominee, Republicans are hoping to put Tester on the defensive in a state that Trump won by 21 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election Tilt Democratic

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