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Flathead lawmakers lead effort to draft Rosendale for Senate race

by KATE HESTON
Daily Inter Lake | August 24, 2023 12:00 AM

A bevy of conservative state lawmakers threw their support behind U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale as the best person to oust incumbent Sen. Jon Tester in 2024 last week, though Rosendale has yet to formally announce his candidacy.

If Rosendale throws his hat in the ring, he will face Tim Sheehy, currently the frontrunner among GOP candidates vying for Tester’s Senate seat. Sheehy, a Navy veteran, Bozeman resident and CEO of Bridger Aerospace, already has the endorsements of U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Rep. Ryan Zinke and Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Several of the Flathead Valley’s most prominent conservative lawmakers have joined the effort to draft Rosendale into the race.

“This collective endorsement reflects our belief in [Rosendale’s] capability, dedication and commitment to Montana's future,” Speaker of the House Matt Regier, from Kalispell, wrote in a statement sent to editorial boards across Montana last week. “Given the current political atmosphere and the importance of the upcoming elections, this endorsement stands as a testament to the unified voice of Montana's conservative legislative representatives.”

Flathead Valley legislators including Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, Rep. Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, Sen. Mark Noland, R-Bigfork, and Rep. Tanner Smith, R-Lakeside, signed on to Matt Regier’s letter.

The group argues that Rosendale’s experience and commitment make him the best candidate to beat Tester, a feat the congressman has previously tried and failed to complete. Rosendale lost to Tester in the 2018 Senate race by 3.5% of the vote, a slim margin.

“I served with Congressman Rosendale in the Montana Legislature and he showed a lot of good leadership characteristics there,” Sen. Keith Regier told the Daily Inter Lake, noting that Rosendale was also the state Senate Majority Leader.

Regier commended Rosendale for thinking about Montanans first and questioning government decisions, such as financial support for Ukraine, which is embroiled in a bitter war with Russia. Rosendale was one of three representatives to vote against a resolution in support of the people of Ukraine in March.

“I hope this is an encouragement to him to jump into that Senate race but if he decides to stay in the House I will support him there too,” Regier said.

Rep. Braxton Mitchell also highlighted Rosendale’s position on Ukraine as well as his stance during the process of selecting a new House speaker earlier this year. Rosendale, a prominent member of the Freedom Caucus, opposed U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speakership.

“While he did lose in 2018, 2018 was a blue wave year,” Mitchell said. “This is a presidential election year, Matt versus Tester… it's a shoe-in.”

Mitchell expects that Montana is going to see a Republican wave in 2024.

When given the choice between Sheehy and Rosendale, Rep. Tanner Smith said he will choose Rosendale. According to Smith, Sheehy belongs with Daines and Gianforte — people who “don’t always have Montana’s best interest in mind.”

If Rosendale doesn’t run, Smith said he would probably endorse Republican Jeremy Mygland instead, who runs an East Helena home construction company.

Smith said that Sheehy will have a conflict of interest when it comes to healthy forest management since his own company benefits from wildfires.

“Sheehy is making millions… I mean more power to him… but you can’t have it both ways,” Smith said.

Smith announced earlier this summer that he is challenging Gov. Greg Gianforte in the upcoming gubernatorial race.

Speaker Matt Regier, Rep. Amy Regier and Sen. Mark Noland did not respond for comment.

Despite Rosendale’s endorsements, as for now Sheehy, stacked with his high profile supporters, is the frontrunner simply because he’s running.

“There’s only one person that is officially running at the moment,” said Al Olszewski, chair of the Flathead County Republicans.

To some Republicans, an endorsement is not in the cards for either man.

“My official feeling is that the sovereign people of the state of Montana do not need me to tell them who to vote for,” said Sen. Jon Fuller, R-Kalispell. According to Fuller, the people of Montana elect officials to reflect their values, not to tell them what to do.

The Republican party in Montana will unite behind whoever wins the Republican primary, he said. Like Mitchell, Fuller is hoping for a red wave in 2024.

“The inflation, the Biden economics, the environmental agenda, the mistakes that have been made in foreign policy, and the anguish that the people of the state of Montana have had to undergo… we deserve a break,” Fuller said.

Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at kheston@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.