Endorsements come in for Montana eastern district primary, some big players still on the sideline

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Posted at 7:30 PM, Apr 10, 2024

HELENA — With nine names on the Republican ballot for Montana’s eastern district U.S. House race, candidates are working to stand out from the crowd – including by showcasing some of their endorsements.

When U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale announced last month he wouldn’t seek reelection, he told MTN he wouldn’t be endorsing anyone in the GOP primary for his seat. Other top Montana Republicans like U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, Gov. Greg Gianforte and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke have also stayed out of the race so far. However, candidates are finding other supporters to highlight to voters.

MFPE Krautter Endorsement
MFPE President Amanda Curtis announced Apr. 6 that the union would be endorsing former state Rep. Joel Krautter, R-Billings, in the race for Montana's eastern U.S. House seat.

On Saturday, the Montana Federation of Public Employees – Montana’s largest public-sector union – announced it was supporting former state representative Joel Krautter of Billings in the eastern district race.

“I'm trying to build a common-sense, broad coalition to win this race because it's a nine-way primary, and so I'm proud to have MFPE and labor's endorsement,” said Krautter, an attorney.

MFPE cited his vow to “crush chaos” and push back against gridlock in Washington, D.C. Leaders said, with almost 10,000 members in the eastern district, they believe MFPE could make a big difference in the race.

“Our members reflect Montana's politics,” said MFPE President Amanda Curtis. “We know the eastern side of the state is more Republican than the western side of the state. Our members who live in Billings and Wibaux and Glasgow and Lewistown are mostly Republican individuals. In the primary and the general, Joel Krautter is our guy.”

Elsie Arntzen

Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen has secured an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman, the lone House member from Wyoming, which borders the eastern district. Hageman defeated Rep. Liz Cheney in a contested Republican primary in 2022.

“I enthusiastically endorse Elsie Arntzen for Congress in Montana’s 2nd District,” Hageman said in a statement shared by Arntzen’s campaign. “As the first GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction in Montana in 30 years, she fought the COVID mandates and to keep kids in school. Solid conservative who will put Montana and America first!”

“I am honored to accept Congresswoman Hageman's Endorsement; she knows I am the TRUE conservative in the race for congress,” said Arntzen in a statement. “Congresswoman Hageman is a conservative warrior, a loyal ally of President Trump, and is working tirelessly to drain the swamp.”

The Washington Examiner also reported last week that Arntzen got the support of Virginia U.S. Rep. Bob Good, who chairs the House Freedom Caucus – a group of staunchly conservative lawmakers that Rosendale has been a prominent member of.

Troy Downing

State Auditor Troy Downing, an Air Force veteran, announced an endorsement from Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL.

"Troy Downing is the America First conservative fighter Montana must send to the House of Representatives,” said Van Orden in a statement. “Now more than ever, our country needs a leader like Troy. Troy has served our country, is committed to securing our borders, and has fought for the freedoms and values that make our nation exceptional.”

“Having the support of a fellow Combat Veteran and America First conservative is more proof that our campaign is the only one that has the momentum and mission to elect a pro-wall, pro-gun, and pro-America leader,” Downing said in a statement.

Bogner-Homan Endorsement

State Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Ken Bogner, R-Miles City, got support from Tom Homan, who served as acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Donald Trump.

“Joe Biden has rolled back the gains we made under President Trump,” Homan said in a statement. “He’s opened the border to illegal immigration, fentanyl from China, and human trafficking. We need a fighter, someone with a backbone who will go to DC and fight back. I’m endorsing Ken Bogner because he is the conservative fighter that we need. As a Marine, he protected our country. I trust him to fight for us in Washington without giving in to the Swamp or the woke Left.”

“I’m honored to have the endorsement of Director Homan,” said Bogner in a statement. “He’s been on the front lines fighting the illegal invasion through our southern border. Politicians in Washington have failed to act for too long. I’ll fight to end catch-and release, reinstate Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy, and fully fund the wall.”

Also working to make their case to voters in the eastern district will be former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, who represented the entire state in the House for six terms from 2001 to 2013; Billings pharmacist Kyle Austin, who ran against Rosendale in the House primary in 2022; former state senator Ric Holden of Glendive, a rancher returning to politics after two decades away; and former DEA state supervisor Stacy Zinn, who highlights her experience on issues like drugs and security.

Eastern Congressional District

The ninth Republican candidate, former state senator Ed Walker of Billings, announced last week that he is suspending his campaign – though it’s too late to get his name off the primary ballot.

“As I suspend my campaign, it is my sincere hope that others will follow suit and consolidate support around a single conservative champion, thus ensuring Montana’s eastern district is not represented by a Bush-era retread or a California phony in perpetuity,” he said in a statement.

Walker’s campaign told MTN he wasn’t making an endorsement yet but was thinking about it.

With mail ballots set to go out in one month, we’ll expect to see candidates bringing out more endorsements in the coming weeks.

Four candidates are running in the Democratic primary for the eastern district: retired pharmaceutical sales representative Ming Cabrera, of Billings; former state lawmaker John Driscoll, of Helena; Montana Pride president and business owner Kevin Hamm, of Helena; and Broadus rancher and business owner Steve Held.