Monday, April 15, 2024

Rosendale tours Montana with Gaetz ahead of decision on political future

by BLAIR MILLER Daily Montanan
| January 31, 2024 12:00 AM

Though he did not outright commit to it, Congressman Matt Rosendale’s “Truth Tour” with Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz across Montana over the weekend did little to quiet the notion that the eastern Montana Republican will decide to face off in a primary for the U.S. Senate seat with Tim Sheehy this year.

The two members of the House Freedom Caucus, the right-wing arm of the Republican U.S. House caucus, made appearances in Bozeman, Townsend, Helena and Joliet Friday and Saturday in what they told supporters was an effort to get out their messaging and take the temperature of Montanans about who they want representing them at the federal level after November’s election. Rosendale teased the tour last week on Steve Bannon’s podcast, where he also hinted at a possible Senate run.

While both danced around the long-rumored Senate run, Gaetz occasionally hinted that Rosendale would indeed file to run against Sheehy — who is backed by the Steve Daines-chaired National Republican Senatorial Committee, Rep. Ryan Zinke, Gov. Greg Gianforte — though Rosendale maintained that a final answer was still up in the air.

“I will tell you the overwhelming support that we’ve had now in Bozeman, stopped in little old Townsend, and here in Helena. We’re going to go to Joliet this evening. If the overwhelming support continues, then I will tell you, it heavily influences my decision,” Rosendale said in response to a question from a member of the audience who asked directly if he’s running for Senate.

Gaetz followed up by saying he’d come all the way up from Florida “for the very reason to recruit (Rosendale) in this race.” He said someone in Bozeman had asked about the NRSC and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., supporting Sheehy in the race.

Gaetz told the crowd he thought Montanans lived here because they didn’t like being told what to do but added that Rosendale would need financial support in order to beat Sheehy and what they called the “establishment” if Rosendale indeed decides to run.

“If he runs for the Senate, he’s going to get out-spent. I know that. But if you guys can put some resources into his congressional campaign now, we can build up a war chest that is sufficient just to tell our story, just to tell the truth,” Gaetz said. “… I always say, money is the mother’s milk of politics. And Rosendale is thirsty.”

More than 100 people showed up to the event with Rosendale and Gaetz at the Broadwater Hot Springs in Helena around midday Saturday, including current and former lawmakers and several candidates for office. Some people provided donations upon entering the event.

After an introduction from Rosendale’s son, former Republican state House Rep. Adam Rosendale, the two congressmen addressed the crowd for about 40 minutes – talking primarily about their efforts to oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and to move the Republican House caucus further to the right, but also at times focusing on what they say are the establishment Republicans working against them on issues like the border and Republican elections.

“Oftentimes, those battle lines aren’t just red shirt versus blue shirt, Republicans versus Democrats. Often, it’s the corrupt establishment against the rest of us,” Gaetz said. “You heard my buddy talk about how we sent a shock to that system in January, and then again more recently. But I’ll confess that I have an ulterior motive to be on this tour. Because nothing would send a shock to the corrupt system in Washington, D.C., more than parachuting Matt Rosendale into the United States Senate.”

Rosendale and Gaetz mostly stuck to the topics they’ve hit hardest lately – the border and a deal between Senate Republicans and Democrats coming together which the Freedom Caucus opposes in favor of a government shutdown; fentanyl; a balanced federal budget and reduced spending; outrage over the Biden administration’s attempt to hire tens of thousands of IRS agents to keep better track of tax filings and collections, and their efforts to get a more right-wing House Speaker in place.

The two drew raucous applause when Gaetz noted that people had called this session of Congress the least effective in years in terms of the number of bills that passed. They also said they supported the U.S. completely severing ties with the United Nations.

After the event, Rosendale and Gaetz fielded questions from the Daily Montanan and another reporter about what a potential Senate race looks like should Rosendale decide to jump in during the next few weeks, which would be just months until the June 4 primary.

Sheehy announced his campaign last June and reportedly raised $2.45 million in the final quarter of 2023, ending the year with $1.3 million cash on hand, according to Fox News. Rosendale’s Congressional campaign reported having $1.7 million cash on hand at the end of September. But Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, reported $13 million in cash on hand at the end of the third quarter and raised another $5 million in the final quarter, his campaign said last week.

But the financial and advertising battle has already been underway for months, with groups airing ads both promoting and attacking Sheehy and Tester across digital, TV and radio platforms, and with many more to come.

Politico reported Monday the Senate Majority PAC, which is focused on supporting Democrats in Senate races, placed ad reservations worth $27 million in Montana set to start running this summer.

Just hours later, NBC News reported the Senate Leadership Fund, the top political action committee supporting Republicans in Senate races, had reserved $24.6 million in Montana, while an aligned PAC, American Crossroads, reserved $23.3 million worth of ad buys, for close to $50 million on anticipated spending. The outlet reported those ads would start running Sept. 3 and go through Election Day.

And HuffPost reported last week that Senate Majority PAC was behind Last Best Place PAC, which has spent more than $5 million on ads targeting Sheehy.

The political spending on that race alone is expected to shatter every Montana political fundraising record, as the Senate seat is expected to be one of a few that could determine whether the Democrats hold, or Republicans take back, the majority in the chamber. Tester has held the seat since 2007, and defeated Rosendale in the 2018 race by 3.5 percentage points.

Rosendale told the two reporters at his event Saturday that Democrats were not supporting him and his campaign, and said he was unfazed by any advertising that has already occurred no matter which office he runs for because his conservative strategy has already won him elections before.

“It’s not always about dollars. It is about ideas, and people around this state and around this country are starving for someone to listen to them and then to actually serve the way that they campaign,” Rosendale said.

Gaetz said he was campaigning with Rosendale to continue to push back on who he called “shills of the establishment,” naming McConnell by name. Sheehy has recently received endorsements from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, and Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, and acted as a surrogate for former President Donald Trump at the Iowa caucuses.

“Mitch McConnell has a candidate in the Montana Senate race, and it isn’t Matt Rosendale. And that’s why I’m here,” Gaetz said. “Because I’d rather win with Matt Rosendale at 55% of the vote than with Tim Sheehy with 59% of the vote. Because only one of those outcomes gets us a rock-ribbed conservative in the Senate.”

The two said they had seen the favor for their brand of Republicanism grow during the past year, using each vote on a debt-ceiling package as an example, and more House Republicans are speaking out against the forthcoming border deal between the Senate and White House, which new House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, said Monday was a “non-starter” because the Freedom Caucus only wants a package that prohibits any illegal border crossings.

Rosendale said that shutting down the government instead is “the only leverage we have” to force President Joe Biden into signing legislation or an executive order more aligned with what their caucus wants.

As to whether the group is taking direction from Trump on the border issue, as some Republican senators have said, Rosendale said he would not discuss his talks with the former president. Asked if Trump might be involved in down-ballot races this year, he said: “I guess we shall see.”

Rosendale said if he does decide to get into the Senate race, he will make an endorsement in the 2nd Congressional District race, where a host of Republicans have already declared – including some who said they would drop out if Rosendale chooses to run for re-election instead of the Senate.

And as some Republican candidates in Montana fight to show they support Trump’s policies more than other Republican candidates, Rosendale said he has steadfastly stood by Trump, while others have not.

“I went to Mar-a-Lago when Alvin Bragg indicted Donald Trump so I could stand beside him. I voted against the electors from Arizona and from Pennsylvania because I saw that there was legitimate claims of voter fraud and of individual elected officials making changes in how the election was conducted without the authorization of those legislators,” Rosendale said. “That’s how you show that you’re a Trump conservative.”

Blair Miller is a Helena-based reporter. The Daily Montanan is a nonprofit newsroom. To read the article as originally published, click here.