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Matt Rosendale launches 2024 campaign for US Senate

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Matt Rosendale launches 2024 campaign for US Senate

Feb 09, 2024 | 12:51 pm ET
By Blair Miller
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Matt Rosendale launches 2024 campaign for US Senate
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Congressman Matt Rosendale launched his 2024 bid for U.S. Senate in a video announcement on Feb. 9, 2024. (Screenshot via Rosendale campaign)

Eastern Montana’s Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale ended months of teasing a possible bid for U.S. Senate on Friday by officially declaring his candidacy for the race, kicking off what is sure to be a heated Republican primary.

Rosendale signed his candidate filing forms at the Secretary of State’s Office in Helena Friday morning surrounded by a few supporters, and simultaneously launched a fundraising website and released an online advertisement attacking Tim Sheehy, who will be his main opponent in the primary, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and what Rosendale calls the “establishment” politicians in Washington.

“This Republican primary race is the people of Montana versus Mitch McConnell, Joe Biden, and the Washington insiders. Mitch McConnell knows that I won’t support him for Republican leader, so he’s trying to keep me out of the Senate. McConnell knows I won’t follow his orders, and he’s fixing to find out that the people of Montana won’t follow his orders either by letting him pick our next senator,” Rosendale said in the advertisement.

Sheehy, a multimillionaire who lives in Bozeman and owns an aerial firefighting company and ranch, is the handpicked candidate of U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, who is currently leading the Republican Senate campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Daines, McConnell, Gov. Greg Gianforte, and Rep. Ryan Zinke, the Republican who represents Montana’s western district, all lined up early on to back Sheehy in the primary with the notion that Rosendale wanted to try again for the seat he lost to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, in 2018.

Brad Johnson, the former chair of the Public Service Commission and former Secretary of State, is also running in the Republican primary for Senate.

The dialogue and advertisements surrounding a Sheehy-Rosendale primary have increasingly involved which candidate can curry more favor with former President Donald Trump, who is expected to be the presidential Republican nominee again this year and whose endorsement has carried significant weight in Republican elections over the past eight years.

Rosendale is a member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus that has upended congressional proceedings and negotiations throughout the last year seeking hard-right policy implementation, including ousting former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and seeking to shut down the government if they do not get concessions on closing the U.S. border with Mexico.

His loyalty to Trump and some of those fights were prominently featured in his kick-off ad for Senate.

“The Washington insiders are causing an invasion at our southern border, enriching their friends with the Green New Deal, allowing China to spy and emerge as the global superpower, all the while retaining power for themselves and ignoring ‘We the People,’” Rosendale said. “For three years in Congress, I put America and Montana first and have never caved to the D.C. cartel.”

Rosendale used some of the same talking points about his loyalty to Trump, and Sheehy’s donations to other Republicans, in the ad as he did in a campaign stop in Helena two weeks ago with Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.

“I voted in support of President Trump’s agenda every single time. On January 6, 2021, I stood with President Trump and voted against the electors. Meanwhile, shortly after, Tim Sheehy contributed to Nikki Haley. On the day Alvin Bragg wrongfully indicted President Trump with bogus charges, I stood with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Within days, Tim Sheehy contributed to yet another candidate running against President Trump,” Rosendale said in the ad.

But Trump endorsed Sheehy just hours after Rosendale’s announcement Friday afternoon.

“I also respect Matt Rosendale, and was very happy to Endorse him in the past – and will Endorse him again in the future should he decide to change course and run for his Congressional Seat,” Trump said on his Truth Social platform. “But in this instance, Tim is the candidate who is currently best-positioned to DEFEAT Lazy Jon Tester, and Regain the Republican Majority in the United States Senate.”

Along with the high-profile Montana Republicans, Sheehy has received endorsements recently from Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who are both Republican hard-liners loyal to Trump as well. He also went to the Iowa caucuses to support Trump.

In recent weeks, Rosendale has painted himself as the underdog candidate fighting what he called the “establishment” “uniparty” of longtime D.C. politicians and less hard-line Republicans, and has said he knows that he is likely to be an underdog when it comes to fundraising and political spending in the primary alone.

“It’s not always about dollars. It is about ideas, and people around this state and around this country are starving for someone to listen to them and then to actually serve the way that they campaign,” Rosendale said after the event in Helena in late January.

Rosendale also told right-wing podcast host Steve Bannon in January that Daines and the NRSC had tried to force him out of the primary starting in November 2022 in favor of Sheehy, and had since tried swiping vendors they had used for campaigns in the past.

Following Trump’s endorsement of Sheehy Friday, Rosendale said he was undeterred.

“I love President Trump. But he needs actual fighters in the U.S. Senate to enact his Agenda 47 – and that’s me and not Mitch McConnell’s hand pick, Tim Sheehy,” Rosendale said in a social media post. “I’m going to win this primary, defeat Jon Tester in November and together we will Make America Great Again.”

Fundraising and outside political spending are expected to be a large factor in both the primary and the General Election, as whoever wins the Republican primary is set to square off against Tester, a prolific fundraiser and three-term senator.

Tester raised $25 million last year and started 2024 with $11.2 million in the bank. Meanwhile, Sheehy raised $5.3 million since he started his campaign last June, including nearly $1 million in loans to his campaign. Sheehy is worth tens of millions of dollars and has the ability to self-fund and had $1.3 in cash on hand to start 2024.

Rosendale, meanwhile, started 2024 with $1.6 million in cash in his House campaign, which can be used for his Senate campaign, but raised only $92,000 in the final three months of 2023.

During the past few weeks, news outlets reported the Democratic Senate Majority’s political action committee was placing ad reservations worth $27 million, and that two Republican-aligned PACS had reserved $48 million in ad buys that would run late summer through Election Day.

Rosendale lost to Tester in the 2018 General Election by about 18,000 votes. Republicans hope this is the year they can finally win back the seat to try to secure a Republican majority in the Senate, and the Republican stronghold in Washington has increasingly gravitated toward Sheehy.

“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.”

On social media, Sheehy released a video mocking Rosendale: “Matt, this is your 8th political run in the last 14 years and you still can’t say Montana right. It’s going to be a long 4 months…”

After Trump endorsed him, Sheehy posted on social media: “The people of Montana stand with you and I proudly stand with you! Thank you, Mr. President. Let’s MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Tester launched a 24-hour fundraising goal of $250,000 off Rosendale’s announcement.

“Matt Rosendale just launched his campaign to run against me. Again,” Tester said on X, formerly Twitter. “This will be the most expensive and competitive race in Montana’s history. I’m not stranger to tough fights, but I’ll need your help. Can I count on you to join me?”

The Montana Democratic Party, which has for months been focused on Sheehy’s past and the possible primary with Rosendale, said the primary would put the depths of both Republicans, neither of whom are originally from Montana, on full display.

“Buckle up for the battle of the out-of-staters, because Mitch McConnell and the NRSC’s greatest nightmare in Montana came true,” said Hannah Rehm, senior communications adviser for the party. “Over the coming months, Montanans are going to see how out of touch Maryland Matt and Transplant Tim are for our state.”

Republicans will get their first taste of how he will campaign now that both have declared at the Montana GOP Winter Kickoff in Helena, where Sheehy is slated to speak alongside Zinke Friday evening and Rosendale on Saturday morning.

While Rosendale led in earlier polling against Sheehy, the Bozeman businessman pulled ahead of Rosendale in more recent polling, though some has been commissioned by Sheehy’s supporters. In his ad, Rosendale makes clear he will be focused on the primary before any possible rematch with Tester.

“They’ve made a big mistake. Montanans don’t take orders from Washington. We send orders to Washington,” he said.

Current state auditor Troy Downing has announced he’s running for Rosendale’s eastern Montana congressional seat, as well as former Montana legislators Joel Krautter, Ed Walker and Ric Holden. Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, who is barred from another term due to term limits, announced she’s running, if Rosendale runs for the Senate. State Sen. Ken Bogner from Miles City is running as well. And on Thursday, former Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, said he’s considering running for the seat. All are Republicans.

On the Democrats’ side, Ming Cabrera and Kevin Hamm have announced they’ll be running for the Congressional seat as well.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Tim Sheehy and comments from Rosendale and Sheehy.