Republican Representative Matt Rosendale has officially entered the Senate race in Montana, setting the stage for a competitive primary against the preferred candidate of national Republicans, retired Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy.
Rosendale, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, lost to Democratic Senator Jon Tester in 2018. Sheehy, who declared his candidacy in June and is backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has already gained support from influential figures like former President Donald Trump.
Despite being at odds with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports Sheehy, Rosendale emphasized his commitment to challenging the establishment, expressing dissatisfaction with Senate leadership on social media. Former President Trump’s endorsement of Sheehy dealt a setback to Rosendale’s campaign.
Trump lauded Sheehy as an “American Hero and highly successful Businessman,” indicating that he is currently the best-positioned candidate to defeat Tester and help Republicans regain control of the Senate.
In response to not receiving Trump’s endorsement, Rosendale downplayed the impact, praising Trump’s past achievements and expressing confidence in securing the primary election with the support of constituents. Both Sheehy and Rosendale have endorsed Trump’s presidential run.
The Montana Senate race is becoming a testing ground for national GOP leaders actively participating in primaries this cycle, aiming to avoid the nomination of flawed candidates that may jeopardize the party’s chances in the general election.
Senator Steve Daines, also from Montana, criticized Rosendale’s decision to enter the primary, citing concerns about divisiveness and the potential risk to flipping the seat in November. Daines reiterated his support for Sheehy and emphasized the significance of winning the Montana Senate seat for controlling the U.S. Senate in 2024.
Rosendale, elected to the U.S. House in 2020, has been a contentious figure within the GOP, often challenging party leadership. He voted to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker and initially opposed McCarthy’s speakership bid in January 2023.
The current House speaker, Mike Johnson, recently announced that he would not be endorsing Rosendale for the Senate, a decision that drew attention after reports suggested Johnson might back his House colleague.
Tester, seeking a fourth term, is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the 2024 election, navigating the challenges of running in a red state.
His campaign has been active with positive bio ads, highlighting his farming background and commitment to public lands, Second Amendment rights, and Montanans’ way of life. As of December, Tester had over $11 million in cash on hand, compared to Sheehy’s $1.2 million and Rosendale’s $1.7 million in his House campaign account.
Rosendale’s entrance into the Senate race sets the stage for a fiercely contested primary, with implications for Republicans’ prospects in the 2024 elections.