Montana Rep. Rosendale Drops Us Senate Bid After 6 Days, Citing Trump Endorsement Of Opponent

FILE - U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy talks about his campaign, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Helena, Mont. Sheehy is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in the November election. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)
FILE - U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy talks about his campaign, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Helena, Mont. Sheehy is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in the November election. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)
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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale dropped his U.S. Senate bid on Thursday, less than a week after he got into the race only to see former President Donald Trump quickly endorse his opponent.

Rosendale, a hard-line conservative, said in a statement that with Trump's backing of fellow Republican Tim Sheehy and a lack of resources, “the hill was just too steep.” Trump’s endorsement came just hours after Rosendale had signed paperwork to formally launch his campaign on Feb. 9.

His exit from the race avoids what was likely to be a monthslong figh t within the GOP leading up the June 4 Montana primary.

Republicans in Washington had worked to keep Rosendale on the sidelines, with leading members of the party supporting Sheehy as the party's best chance to topple three-term Democratic Sen. Jon Tester — part of their strategy to take control of the Senate by targeting a few vulnerable Democratic seats in the 2024 election.

Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL who now owns an aerial firefighting company with extensive government contracts, is a political newcomer backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Montana Sen. Steve Daines — the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

In Washington, Rosendale is among the House’s most hard-right conservatives and a member of the House Freedom Caucus. He banded with seven other members of his party in October to oust Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He supports Trump and voted against certifying the 2020 election.

Rosendale had said when he announced his campaign that he would be able to challenge Tester despite losing to him in 2018. Trump played a large role in that election, too, visiting Montana repeatedly to stump for Rosendale, who lost by about 3.5 percentage points.

“I’ve won two elections since then,” Rosendale, 63, told reporters Friday as he entered the race. “And the most important thing is that my name ID and my trust factor is elevated dramatically. People know who I am.”

While a large contingent of conservative state lawmakers cheered Rosendale's filing, Daines issued a statement saying: “It’s unfortunate that rather than building seniority for our great state in the House, Matt is choosing to abandon his seat and create a divisive primary.”

It’s not clear if Rosendale will seek re-election to his U.S. House seat following Thursday's announcement. Several other Republicans have already announced their intentions to enter that race, which is in a solidly GOP district.

Sheehy said in a statement that Rosendale has held the line on reckless spending in Washington, D.C., and that he looked forward to working together with Rosendale to defeat Tester.

Former Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson is also vying for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination.

Tester, a political moderate, has held onto his Senate post even as Montana tilted increasingly Republican over the past several election cycles.

When he entered the Senate in 2007, Democrats held almost every statewide elected office in Montana, from governor and attorney general, to two of the state’s three seats in Congress. Since 2020, that’s down to Tester’s seat.

Montana Democrats had relished the possibility of an ugly primary fight between Sheehy and Rosendale, which could have distracted GOP voters in advance of the general election and drained some of the party's campaign funds.

“Rosendale spent months making the case that Tim Sheehy has no place representing Montana in the Senate and he was right: Sheehy is an out-of-state tech millionaire completely out of touch with Montana’s way of life," Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Sheila Hogan said Thursday.

Tester's campaign declined comment on Rosendale's announcement.

The race is on track to be among the most expensive in Montana political history. Spending on advertising by the candidates and outside political groups already topped $18 million. An additional $95 million in advertising has been reserved for the coming months, according to data from AdImpact, a firm that tracks political advertising.

Maneuvering by Republicans to increase their chances of beating Tester began last year when Republican state lawmakers proposed election rule changes that would have allowed only the top two candidates to advance out of the state's 2024 Senate primary. That likely would have kept third-party candidates off the general election ballot and could have tipped the election for Republicans.

Past races for Tester’s seat were close enough that some Republicans blamed third-party candidates for the Democrat’s victories.