HELENA — After months of speculation, U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale finally confirmed Friday morning that he’s running for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat. His decision wasn’t a surprise, as he’s hinted for weeks at a potential run, but it brings what had been a behind-the-scenes battle in the Republican primary into the open.
Rosendale filed his candidacy at 9 a.m. at the Montana Secretary of State’s Office. He was joined by several dozen supporters, including a number of staunchly conservative state lawmakers, like House Speaker Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, and Montana Freedom Caucus chair Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton.
Immediately after filing, Rosendale made clear he’s expecting a tough race.
“I hope every one of those signs is lined with bronze, because we’re going into a battle, so you’re going to need them,” he told his backers.
Rosendale served in the Montana Legislature and as state auditor before being elected to two terms in the U.S House. There, he’s become known for pushing back against GOP leadership, most notably during recent battles over the speakership. He launched his Senate campaign vowing to stand up to establishment Republicans, who he described as “the Uniparty” for not doing enough to distinguish themselves from Democrats.
“I understand in Congress, as in this legislative body that I served in with many of these fine people with me here today, you have to have some kind of a compromise,” he told reporters Friday. “But there’s a huge difference between compromising on your principles and compromising on some policy.”
Rosendale is the third Republican candidate seeking the nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, following Gallatin County businessman and Navy veteran Tim Sheehy and former Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson. The race for Tester’s seat is considered one of the most closely watched in the country, as it could have a big impact on control of the Senate next year.
Many state and national GOP leaders – including U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, Gov. Greg Gianforte and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke – have already lined up behind Sheehy, saying he’d be a stronger choice against Tester. Rosendale previously ran for Senate in 2018 and lost to Tester by 3 percentage points.
A few hours after Rosendale’s announcement, Sheehy’s campaign responded by announcing an endorsement from former President Donald Trump. In a post on his Truth Social platform, Trump said Sheehy was “far more likely” to defeat Tester.
“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,” the post continued. “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.”
Sheehy’s campaign issued a statement highlighting his support for Trump and alluding to others “showing disloyalty.”
On Friday evening, Sheehy spoke to a crowd of Republican candidates and party activists in Helena, at the Montana Republican Party’s Winter Kick-Off event. In his speech, he promised a “spirited race” with Rosendale – and even credited him as a “warrior” on budget issues. However, Sheehy told MTN he believed his background in business, in the military and as a newcomer to politics would be an advantage in the campaign.
“Obviously, I'm a fresh face on the political scene,” he said. “Some people think that's a bad thing; I think that's a good thing. It's a fresh perspective. We've had enough people going back and forth to D.C. for generations, the same people 30, 40, 50 years in office. It's time for a new generation of leaders to solve the very serious problems our country is facing. It's going to take political outsiders to do that.”
Rosendale is scheduled to address the Winter Kick-Off Saturday morning.
Daines is chairing the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the main campaign arm for Senate Republicans, and he’s put an emphasis on supporting candidates they believe will be the strongest in the general election.
““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 released by NRSC Friday. “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.”
Rosendale said Friday he believes GOP leaders getting so heavily involved in supporting Sheehy this early in the process is offensive to voters. He said he’ll stand on his conservative record in Congress, and he expects that will appeal to primary voters.
“I’m anticipating that Mitch McConnell and the Senate committee is going to, probably in about ten minutes begin their attacks on Matt Rosendale, and I’m fully prepared for that,” he said.
The Montana Democratic Party released its own statement, continuing its contention that a heated GOP primary between Rosendale and Sheehy would be good news for Tester.
“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, the party’s senior communications advisor. “Over the coming months, Montanans are going to see how out of touch Maryland Matt and Transplant Tim are with our state.”
Even before Rosendale’s announcement, at least eight Republicans had expressed interest in running for his U.S. House seat, representing Montana’s eastern congressional district. Now that the position is confirmed to be open, we could see those and even more jumping into that race.
Editor's note: This article has been updated. The original post is below.
U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale officially entered the race for the U.S. Senate on Friday, filing paperwork with the Montana Secretary of State. The announcement sets up a Republican primary showdown to see who can secure the party’s nomination to challenge Democrat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Rosendale has long been suspected of having plans to enter the Senate race. A half dozen Republican candidates had filed to run for the congressman’s current seat before his announcement to enter the Senate race.
The path to the GOP nomination will not be easy for the two-term U.S. Representative and former Montana State Auditor.
Among the Republican candidates challenging Tester is Gallatin County businessman and Navy veteran Tim Sheehy. Sheehy has the backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee headed by Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines. His campaign has raised a total of $5.3 million since launching, and he has had a significant presence over the air for months with political ads.
Former Montana Secretary of State and Public Service Commissioner Brad Johnson is also running for the Republican nomination for Senate. Johnson, who told MTN when he announced his campaign that he expected to be significantly outspent in the GOP primary, brought in just over $22,000 during the last quarter.
Rosendale previously squared off against Tester, a two-term incumbent at the time, in 2018 for the U.S. Senate seat. After the primary, Rosendale was endorsed by then-President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Trump visited Montana four times to campaign for Rosendale and Pence visited three times.
Tester won 50.3% of the vote in the 2018 general election and Rosendale received 46.8% of the vote.
Daines-backed Sheehy is seen by the NRSC as the better chance of unseating the now three-term incumbent Tester, as Sheehy can help personally fund his campaign and has no voting record to scrutinize.
On Friday, former President Trump officially endorsed Sheehy for the race. Trump noted he had respect for Rosendale and will endorse him in the future, but believes Sheehy is in the best position to take on Tester in the general election.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with former President Trump's endorsement of Tim Sheehy.