MT-Sen: Sheehy Declares

Retired Navy SEAL and aerospace company CEO Tim Sheehy (R) announced his US Senate candidacy in Montana, and already the proverbial hockey gloves came off. 

Immediately after Mr. Sheehy declared his candidacy, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, with its chairman Montana’s junior Senator Steve Daines, issued its expected pre-primary endorsement.

The Montana Senate race is expected to be one of the hottest campaigns in the country as Republicans attempt to deny incumbent Sen. Jon Tester (D) a fourth term. As a top-tier Senate Republican conversion opportunity along with challenges in West Virginia and Ohio, the GOP must realistically win at least two of these three contests to wrest Senate control away from the Democrats.

Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Glendive), who is reportedly telling his supporters that he will also join the Senate race, responded to the Sheehy announcement with a Tweet saying, “congratulations to Mitch McConnell and the party bosses on getting their chosen candidate. Now Washington has two candidates - Tim Sheehy and Jon Tester - who will protect the DC cartel.” The response signals that the Republican primary campaign begins on a contentious note.

Early polling shows Rep. Rosendale holding a substantial lead over Mr. Sheehy. Just last week, Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling released a Montana Republican primary survey (6/19-20; 510 MT likely Republican primary voters; live interview & text) that found the Congressman holding a whopping 64-10% advantage.

Obviously, the NRSC leadership will commit to spending heavily to help Sheehy overcome his polling deficit, but Rep. Rosendale can counter with major outside publicly pledged assistance coming from the Club for Growth organization.

Matt Rosendale first arrived on the Montana political scene in 2010 when he won a seat in the state House of Representatives. Since that election, he has run for a different office, or faced a different electorate, in every succeeding campaign.

In 2012, then-state Rep. Rosendale was successfully elected to the state Senate. In 2014, he lost an at-large Republican primary for, at the time, the state’s lone US House district. Moving to 2016, he was elected State Auditor. Two years later, Mr. Rosendale challenged Sen. Tester and was defeated 50-47% in a wave Democratic year. In 2020, he was then elected to the state’s at-large US House district.

As a part of the 2020 US Census, Montana earned a second congressional district in national reapportionment. Therefore, Rep. Rosendale ran for re-election last November in the state’s new 2nd District that covers the central and eastern parts of the state.

While the Congressman has bounced from campaign to campaign and office to office over the past decade+, he has won most of the contests that he has entered. Of his seven unique campaigns since the 2010 election, inclusive, Mr. Rosendale has won five times.

Rep. Rosendale is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the earliest holdouts against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) during the marathon 15 ballots for the latter to finally secure the leadership position. Based upon his past actions, and the attack against Sen. McConnell vis-a-vis the Sheehy announcement, winnability in the general election is clearly not the only factor in the NRSC going “all-in” against Rosendale.

Though Sen. Tester has won three Montana statewide elections, the 2024 campaign may pose his most difficult challenge. The state has moved much further to the right since his initial election in 2006; he has only broken the 50% mark one time, recording 50.3% of the vote in the aforementioned 2018 campaign against Mr. Rosendale; and this will be the first time that Sen. Tester has been on the ballot in a presidential election year where the state will almost assuredly post a double-digit win for the Republican nominee.

Additionally, the Senator has moved to the left in terms of his voting record during his long tenure, which should give the Republicans plenty of fodder for the general election campaign.

Just short of a year away from the June 2024 Montana primary, it is already obvious that we will see both a hot general election campaign and an equally tough Republican nomination contest next year in Big Sky Country.

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