Montana officials eye U.S. House seat ahead of possible Senate primary

A challenge to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D) by U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R) would create an attractive opportunity for many Republicans.
Sen. Ken Bogner (R) said he would consider a run for the U.S. House if Rep. Matt Rosendale (R) runs for the Senate. (Courtesy of Bogner’s campaign website)

Top Montana Republicans are eyeing a promotion as U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R) considers a bid for a Senate seat next year, setting up a rare open seat in the state’s rural eastern district.

Rosendale, who lost a previous run against Sen. Jon Tester (D) in 2018, is considering a second campaign against Tester. National Republicans have tried to talk him out of another campaign; Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has publicly endorsed aerospace company CEO Tim Sheehy (R) instead.

But Montana Republicans expect Rosendale to make a bid anyway.

“We’re going to have a primary,” state Sen. Ken Bogner (R) told Pluribus News. “I think [Rosendale] would make a great senator.”

Bogner is among the Republicans who are considering a run to replace Rosendale in the House. In the face of term limits in the legislature, he said he is thinking about his next step.

“The thought has crossed my mind. I’m considering it. We’ll see what the congressman does,” Bogner said.

He won’t be alone. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen (R) and state Auditor Troy Downing (R) each announced Monday they are considering a run for Rosendale’s seat in 2024, contingent on Rosendale running for Senate.

Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R), state Rep. Casey Knudsen (R) and Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci (R) are also said to be exploring their own campaigns.

“We have been fortunate to have rock-solid conservative representation in Rep. Rosendale,” Sam Rubino, a spokesman for Arntzen’s new exploratory committee, said in a statement. “Arntzen is committed to building upon that legacy should Rosendale toss his hat in the ring for U.S. Senate.”

Rubino said Arntzen would end her exploratory committee if Rosendale decides instead to seek re-election.

In response to Arntzen’s move, a Rosendale spokesperson said to KULR that Rosendale has not yet made a decision, but they sounded confident he would win the nomination if he runs.

“With a 54-point lead in a primary against Tim Sheehy and a 5-point lead on Sen. Tester, Rep. Rosendale is the clear choice among Montana voters. He has their overwhelming trust and support should he decide to run,” the spokesperson said.

Rosendale previously served in the state House and Senate, including as Senate majority leader. He ran for the U.S. House in 2014, finishing third in the GOP primary, ahead of Arntzen. He was elected state Auditor in 2016, and months later launched a challenge to Tester with the immediate backing of the anti-tax group Club for Growth and its big-spending political action committee.

Rosendale won a crowded 2018 primary, which included Downing, with 34% of the vote. He lost to Tester in the general election 50%-47%. He was elected to Montana’s at-large U.S. House seat in 2020, and was re-elected in the post-reapportionment 2nd District in 2022.

After initially indicating the group would back Rosendale again in 2024, Club for Growth President David McIntosh sounded less sure when speaking with reporters last month. He said the Club was intrigued by Sheehy and would make a decision on an endorsement if Rosendale opts to run.

A U.S. Senate bid appears likely. Politico reported he hired a top conservative fundraiser, Caroline Wren, and has attended several events outside his district this summer.

Kyle Trygstad contributed reporting.