Montana Republican Rep. Rosendale seeks reelection after dropping US Senate bid

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale announced Wednesday that he will seek reelection to his U.S. House seat representing eastern Montana, after he abandoned a short-lived Senate campaign under pressure from party leaders.

Rosendale, a hardline conservative, bucked Republican Senate leaders earlier this month by briefly seeking the GOP nomination to run for the Senate seat held by three-term incumbent Democrat Jon Tester. He withdrew his candidacy just six days after entering the race, citing former President Donald Trump's endorsement of Republican Tim Sheehy and the difficulties in raising enough money to run a Senate campaign.

A crowded field of Republicans previously filed or announced plans to seek Rosendale’s House seat, including Denny Rehberg of Billings, a former congressman and the state's former lieutenant governor.

Rosendale said in a social media post that family members, friends, constituents and Trump urged him to seek reelection.

“I have been humbled by the outpouring of support I have received to run for Montana's 2nd Congressional District so we can continue our work to cut spending, secure the border, and restore America's energy dominance,” he said.

Rosendale also endorsed Sheehy, declaring it was time to “unify as a party” after previously railing against Sheehy as the chosen candidate of a corrupt and entrenched Washington establishment.

In Washington, Rosendale has been among the House’s most hard-right conservatives and a member of the House Freedom Caucus. He banded with seven other members of his party in October to oust Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He supports Trump and voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.

Wednesday's announcement followed speculation among many Republicans that Rosendale would not seek reelection after getting snubbed in his Senate bid. His decision shakes up the plans of fellow Republicans who entered the House race when it was presumed Rosendale wouldn't seek a third term.

Among them, State Auditor Troy Downing has said he would run regardless of Rosendale's decision. Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen filed to enter the race on Tuesday after previously saying she would run only if Rosendale did not.

Former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Stacy Zinn, of Billings, former eastern Montana lawmaker Joel Krautter, former state Sen. Ric Holden, of Glendive, and Billings pharmacist Kyle Austin also have filed for the race. State Sen. Ken Bogner, of Miles City, and former state Sen. Ed Walker, of Billings, have said they plan to run.

Rosendale's abrupt exit from the Senate race avoided what would have likely been a long and costly fight within the GOP leading up to Montana’s June 4 primary.

GOP leaders are hoping to unseat Tester as they try to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats, who hold a slim majority and will have several vulnerable incumbents on the 2024 ballot, including Tester.

Rosendale, a former state lawmaker and state auditor, lost to Tester in 2018 despite multiple visits to the state on his behalf by then-President Donald Trump.

Montana voters elected Rosendale to the House in 2020 and again two years ago by wide margins.

Democrats struggled to gain a foothold in the district after it was redrawn for the 2022 election when Montana gained a second congressional seat due to its growing population. The party's nominee that year, former state lawmaker Penny Ronning, finished third in the general election with just 20% of the vote, behind Rosendale and Independent Gary Buchanan.

Democrats Steve Held and Ming Cabrera, of Billings, have filed for the Democratic nomination in the district. Held is a rancher from Broadus whose daughter, Rikki, was among the youth plaintiffs in a lawsuit that successfully challenged Montana’s pro-fossil fuel policies on constitutional grounds. Cabrera is a retired pharmaceutical representative.

Democrat Kevin Hamm, a small business owner from Helena and president of Montana Pride, also has announced that he’ll seek the seat.


Brown reported from Denver.