« It’s great to see so many conservative senators rally around Tim’s candidacy, » Montana Sen. Steve Daines told POLITICO, taking the unusual step of trying to gently but publicly dismiss the congressman. « I really like Matt Rosendale, which is why I’m encouraging him to build seniority for the great state of Montana in the House and help Republicans retain a majority. »
That move by Daines, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, indicates how eager top Republicans are to ward off Rosendale and a messy primary. Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) gave their support to Sheehy on Tuesday. The next day, Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) endorsed it, lauding his « courage and integrity » and his « extraordinary career. »
A member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, Rosendale privately told lawmakers he intends to make another run against Tester after failing to beat the incumbent five years ago. His lackluster fundraising and past losses have left party strategists and donors nervous that Rosendale would struggle to win the general election in a state that is crucial to the GOP’s path to a majority.
Rosendale took no formal steps towards a campaign. But on Tuesday he appeared undeterred, shooting Sheehy and yoking him to the Senate minority leader.
“Congratulations to Mitch McConnell and party bosses on getting candidate of choice,” he tweeted. « Now Washington has two candidates – Tim Sheehy and Jon Tester – who will protect the DC cartel. »
Conservatives in the Senate, including Utah’s Mike Lee and Texas’ Ted Cruz, encouraged Rosendale to enter. And the Anti-Growth Tax Club, an influential group outside the GOP, has signaled it will likely back Rosendale again. The thinking of the Club has not changed since Sheehy joined who, according to a person close to the group, has granted anonymity because she is not authorized to discuss internal planning.
Rosendale lost to Tester by more than 3 points in 2018 after struggling to match the senator’s fundraising and fending off questions about his Montana roots. She raised just $6 million that cycle compared to $23.3 million for Tester.
Some Montana donors allied with Sheehy are urging Rosendale not to challenge him. Their message has often taken on the same tone as that of Daines: they like Rosendale and hope he will continue his work at the Maison. They don’t want it to complicate their chances of winning a Senate seat.
“I think the path forward to be effective in any election is with Tim in the Senate seat,” said Eugene Graf IV, an influential donor in Montana who backed Rosendale in 2018 but backs Sheehy this cycle. He said he thought Sheehy’s candidacy would « make Matt stop and think about that future. »
« Unfortunately, there are some personalities who see a path for them instead of perhaps the big picture for the state or the country, » Graf said.
In response to those urging Rosendale to remain in the House, Rosendale spokeswoman Aashka Varma also indicated a February poll commissioned by congressman’s campaign that showed it 5 points on Tester ea Public Policy Survey which showed him with a 54-point lead over Sheehy in the primary.
« This is an attempt by McConnell and the DC Cartel to fire Montana voters, » Varma said in a statement. « Rep. Rosendale has the overwhelming confidence and support of Montana voters. »
However, some Sheehy supporters, who want to see Rosendale stay in Congress, are wary of giving to the congressman out of concern that he will spend those funds against other Republicans.
« I personally won’t give Matt any money until I know my money isn’t going to be used to fight Tim, » said Brian Cebull, a Montana donor and businessman involved in the oil and gas industry.
When asked in a Wednesday morning television interview, Sheehy also addressed Rosendale’s potential candidacy.
« Matt is obviously our representative in the House, and I hope he continues to do his good work there, » Sheehy said, « I hope it stays that way, but I can’t predict what’s going to happen. »
Sheehy is personally wealthy and should invest heavily in his campaign. He has seen some donor enthusiasm since its launch Tuesday. He passed easily Rosendale’s first quarter haul of $127,000without self-funding, in less than 24 hours of announcing a run, according to a person close to the Sheehy campaign who was not authorized to disclose fundraising details.
But if Sheehy can get past Rosendale’s finances, he might not escape carpet-burglary attacks by Tester’s allies. Sheehy moved to Montana after leaving the Navy to start a business. She will also have to work to make herself known to voters in the state. You are a political neophyte, which means that you have no record to attack but also no base of support among the electorate.
Rosendale served years in the Montana legislature and as state auditor before campaigning for the House and Senate. His multiple runs across the state will likely give him an edge in any primary campaign.