MT-Sen: Rosendale Already Behind

For months it was assumed that Montana US Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Glendive) would challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) as he did five years ago, but as time marches on the Congressman is rather inexplicably not in the race.

Even more cryptically, when asked three weeks ago about his 2024 political plans, Rep. Rosendale said his deadline for deciding is March 11th. On the ‘24 political calendar, that day represents the end of the Montana candidate filing period. 

Fundraising might give us another clue as to where the Big Sky Senate race is headed. For the 2024 election cycle, Rep. Rosendale has raised $608,468 from donors according to the Federal Election Commission disclosure filing for the period ending September 30th but possesses over $1.7 million in his campaign account. While Mr. Rosendale’s fundraising total is low, the cash-on-hand figure is certainly respectable. 

The national Republican leadership is clearly wary about another Rosendale run. In 2018, he fell to Sen. Tester on a 50-47% count. While this is a close result, it certainly is not in recount range and many national analysts don’t see Rosendale performing much better against the Senator in 2024. Furthermore, while earlier in the year it appeared the Club for Growth was expected to spend heavily on Rosendale’s behalf, now signs are pointing to the organization sitting on the sidelines.

In the meantime, the party leadership was successful in recruiting aerospace company CEO and retired Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy into the race. Contrasting the Rosendale and Sheehy fundraising records, for example, the latter man has attracted almost $2.9 million ($2.4 million from donors) or four times the amount the Congressman raised from others. 

In addition to the financial imbalance, Mr. Sheehy has already secured public endorsements from the key Montana Republican elected officials: Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Gov. Greg Gianforte (R), and US Representative and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish). 

The latest blow to Rosendale’s potential Senate hopes came this week. A newly released Fabrizio Lee statewide Montana survey (10/23-25; 600 MT likely Republican primary voters; live interview & text) finds Mr. Rosendale for the first time falling behind in polling for the Republican nomination.

According to the Fabrizio Lee data, the full ballot test, that also includes GOP candidates Brad Johnson and Jeremy Mygland, projects Mr. Sheehy to be holding a 38-35-6-1% edge over Congressman Rosendale and the two minor candidates, respectively. In a head-to-head hypothetical pairing, Mr. Sheehy holds a 44-41% margin over Rep. Rosendale. 

In contrast to the Congressman’s lackluster starting pace, Mr. Sheehy, who announced his Senate candidacy in late June, has been working the state and is already on the air with an early television buy. 

Each of these factors raise questions as to whether Rosendale will even run for the Senate. Perhaps the final straw is that he now has something of political significance to risk: his eastern Montana House seat. From here, Mr. Rosendale holds a position from which he has a platform to influence policy and, assuming the 2024 election returns a close partisan divide regardless of which party claims the majority, Mr. Rosendale could again find himself in an enviable political position.

Matt Rosendale is an individual who can legitimately be called “a frequent candidate,” that is, a person who continually runs for different offices. Usually, the phrase is reserved for candidates who run often but never win. Such is not the case for Mr. Rosendale, however.

The Congressman first started running for public office in Montana back in 2010 when he secured election to the Montana House of Representatives. Two years later, he was elected to the state Senate. In 2014, he entered the open at-large race for the US House and lost the Republican primary to Mr. Zinke. Undaunted, he returned two years later and was elected State Auditor. In 2018, he challenged Sen. Tester and lost by three percentage points in what was a strong Democratic year. 

The 2020 campaign saw him return to an at-large US House campaign, and this time he was victorious. After the Census awarded Montana a second House seat in national reapportionment, Mr. Rosendale was again before a different constituency, this time choosing the eastern, and more Republican, district from which to seek re-election to the House.

While Mr. Rosendale hasn’t run for the same office in two consecutive terms, his won/loss record is a very credible five wins and two losses. 

With now holding a significant political prize and looking at a statewide primary where the early indicators are all pointed against him, will Mr. Rosendale actually enter the 2024 Senate race? What once appeared as a sure thing, must now be rated as doubtful.


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