Rep. Matt Rosendale is running for Senate again in Montana, setting off a messy race for the Republican nomination in a state that many party leaders hope to win in a state that could upset the partisan balance of power in the chamber.
Rosendale, which failed to unseat Sen. John Tester in 2018, started official activity His bid for a rematch with the three-term Democrat on Friday.
His entry into the race pits him against political newcomer former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy, who is primarily backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and other key establishment figures.
Rosendale’s candidacy could also create tension among Donald Trump’s allies. The former president has not indicated a preference for the Montana primary, but his aides have been frustrated by what they see as Rosendale’s lack of loyalty. NBC News reported this week.
Montana, along with Ohio and West Virginia, is a key GOP target this year as one of three states represented by Democratic senators that Trump carried in 2020. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s Ohio re-election campaign is expected to compete with Tester in Montana for the national pick. Senator Joe Manchin’s retirement in West Virginia will make this state much easier for Republicans.
Tester has proven to be a formidable challenger since he was first elected in 2006, emphasizing his deep roots in Montana, including his experience as a farmer and his bipartisan work on issues such as veterans’ health care.
In 2012, when then-President Barack Obama lost Montana by 14 percentage points, Tester won a second term by 4 points, winning 35,000 more votes than the president. Tester beat Rosendale by nearly 4 points in 2018.
Ahead of another hotly contested race, Tester began building his campaign coffers, ending 2023 with $11.2 million. His campaign is already active on the airwaves, spending $5.7 million on ads so far, according to ad tracking firm AdImpact.
Tester and his allies have dominated the Montana airwaves so far, with the Democratic group Last Best Place PAC spending $6.6 million, mostly targeting Sheehy. The group is affiliated with Senate Majority PAC, a major Democratic super PAC focused on Senate races.
Sheehy, meanwhile, spent $3.4 million on ads, launching websites that touted his background as a former Navy SEAL and businessman. He ended 2023 with about $1.3 million on hand — less than Rosendale’s reported House campaign fund of about $1.7 million, which could be used for his Senate bid.
Rosendale’s fundraising performance in the last quarter was less robust than Sheehy’s — the congressman reported raising $97,000 to Sheehy’s $1.6 million. The disparity has raised questions about how seriously Rosendale is taking the prospect of both a costly primary and a potential general election.
Other external dynamics have shaped the race in recent months. The NRSC, led by another Montana senator, Steve Daines, has been a staunch supporter of Sheehy. Sheehy also spoke with Montana Governor Greg Gianforte and the state’s other congressman, Rep. Supported by Ryan Zinke.
The Trump factor can loom large. Rosendale has joined Trump in dismissing the results of the 2020 presidential election without credible evidence to the contrary. But he split with the former president last year after Trump endorsed Kevin McCarthy for House Speaker. of Rosendale refusing to take a phone call from the former president was documented by photographers during the leadership contest and became a point of tension in Trump’s world.
A key moment of friction came in December at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where Rosendale, who was there for a fundraiser, accosted the former president in golf attire as he walked through the lobby for an impromptu photo op. shared on the social network. According to four sources familiar with the meeting, Trump’s advisers considered it an ambush. And while they are not yet endorsing Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign, they are particularly angry at what they see as Rosendale’s attempt at rapprochement. (Rosendale has since endorsed Trump.)
A source close to Rosendale claimed the Mar-a-Lago meeting with Trump this week was cordial and coincidental.
Rosendale could benefit from the support of Trump allies who resent the NRSC’s involvement and want to connect Sheehy to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who is seen as an enemy of Trump’s MAGA movement. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., toured Montana with Rosendale last month. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon countered Sheehy’s establishment pedigree on his daily podcast, which has influenced right-wing voters.
One write in X this weekRep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., wrote that she would get Rosendale’s confirmation for the Senate.
“I’m tired of running and winning just to get orders from McConnell,” Luna writes. “He’s part of the problem.”