There was plenty of moving and shaking going on in the Montana Republican Party last week.
First up, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte formally announced that he’ll pass up a bid for re-election to run for Montana governor. Other Republicans vying for governor include Attorney General Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell. Olszewski, however, told the Montana Free Press that Gianforte has him on a short list of potential running mates, which he is considering.
Gianforte’s announcement prompted Secretary of State Corey Stapleton to shift from the governor’s race to the U.S. House race, while former District Judge Russ Fagg said he too is now considering a run for the House seat.
Then on Monday, State Auditor Matt Rosendale, who lost his Senate campaign to Sen. Jon Tester last November, threw his hat into the House race.
Not to be lost in the mix, Whitefish businessman Don Kaltschmidt was elected as chairman of the Montana Republican Party at the state officers’ convention over the weekend in Helena.
While he never has held public office, Kaltschmidt’s resume checks a lot of boxes that should satisfy party loyalists. Along with owning the successful Don “K” auto dealership in Whitefish, he is a U.S. Marine, a lifelong Republican and a lifetime member of the NRA. He’s also served as finance chair of the Flathead County Republican Central Committee.
Kaltschmidt takes over the reins from outgoing chairwoman Debra Lamm at a critical time for the party.
Seven out of eight federal and statewide offices are on the ballot next year — including the coveted governor’s seat that has been controlled by Democrats for the last 16 years — and Kaltschmidt set out the lofty goal for the Republicans to “win every single one of our races.”
There’s also the challenge of solidifying party unity. Tensions within the party bubbled to the surface during the last legislative session, with the so-called moderate “Solutions Caucus” butting heads with the more right-leaning “38 Specials” Republicans.
It’s a lot to take on, but Kaltschmidt is a proven leader, and his calm demeanor and statesmanship should serve him well in this new role at the head of the Montana GOP.