Matt Rosendale Drops Out Of Eastern Montana House Race

Continuing a series of campaign reversals, Republican Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale announced last week that he will not seek re-election to the state’s eastern U.S. House district.

Rosendale, a hardliner who was elected to the House in 2020 after serving as Montana State Auditor, launched a long-anticipated campaign for the U.S. Senate Feb. 9, only to call it off six days later. Then, at the end of February — by which point several Republicans had already begun campaigns to fill his U.S. House seat — he filed to run for re-election to his current office. Assuming he doesn’t reverse course again, his announcement means he will leave office at the end of his term.

Speaking with Montana Free Press, Rosendale listed a number of reasons for his planned departure from the House: frustration with the difficulty of moving the needle on his policy priorities; retribution by his political enemies; “false and defamatory” rumors about him and even a death threat.

And just last week, the anti-spending crusader noted, the GOP-controlled House passed a $460 billion omnibus spending measure replete with earmarks from members of his own party. 

“I’ve tried for three years to have an impact on the two big issues that I think are national security threats,” he said. “And that is the out-of-control spending and immigration. For the last year, having the majority, we have not been able to move the needle a single bit. And look, I came in knowing that the system is severely broken, and it’s in bad need of reforms. If I can’t move the needle that much, and I am approaching my 64th birthday, it’s time to step back and let someone else try.”

Rosendale said also that at about the time he filed for re-election, a death threat was made against him that resulted in the U.S. Capitol Police contacting law enforcement in Montana who sent officers to one of his sons’ homes. A spokesperson for the Capitol Police said the agency does not discuss potential investigations.

Additionally, around the time Rosendale dropped out of the Senate race — a decision he attributed then to former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of his primary opponent Tim Sheehy — an unsubstantiated rumor began circulating in Montana and in Washington, D.C. that Rosendale had conducted an affair with a staffer. Because the details of the story were hazy, and no party came forward with evidence of an affair or to make the allegations on the record, most media outlets did not cover the rumor until former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, gave it air on a political podcast. That prompted a denial from Rosendale, a legal threat and a public statement of support for her husband by Rosendale’s wife, Jean.

Rosendale said that the threat and rumor “placed a cloud on the MT-02 election.” He added that he doesn’t believe his dropping out of the race will further fuel the rumor mill.

“The people across Montana know who I am,” he said. “They know me. They trust me. My family certainly knows me and trusts me.”

Rosendale, a real estate developer who moved from Maryland to Dawson County in 2002, was first elected to the Montana State Legislature in 2010. He made his first federal bid to represent what was then Montana’s at-large U.S. House district in 2014, but failed to advance beyond the Republican primary. He was back in the Legislature the next year, then successfully ran for state auditor in 2016. In 2018, he faced the incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in a tight, hugely expensive race that — despite several appearances in Montana by Trump in support of Rosendale — resulted in the largest victory margin of Tester’s senatorial career. National Republicans would later keep that loss in mind when they recruited Sheehy, a wealthy Belgrade businessman and political neophyte, to face Tester in the 2024 cycle.

Rosendale won election to Montana’s at-large U.S. House district in 2020 and then to the newly created eastern district in 2022. In Congress, Rosendale joined the House Freedom Caucus and established himself as one of the GOP’s most vocal hardliners. He voted against certifying 2020 presidential election results — and, indeed, against most big-ticket bipartisan legislation — is staunchly anti-abortion and was among the crew of GOP lawmakers who voted with Democrats last year to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had endorsed Rosendale in 2018.

Rumors that Rosendale would mount a Senate run on the strength of this reputation circled for much of 2023. Even before officially launching his campaign, he attacked Sheehy as “Mitch McConnell’s lackey” and openly accused national Republicans of trying to strong-arm him out of the race. Notably, this put Rosendale at odds with Republican Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee and has aggressively played in GOP primaries. 

“During his time in public service, [Rosendale] has been a strong advocate for fiscal responsibility, the Second Amendment and pushing back against federal overreach,” Daines said in a statement. “I thank him for his service and wish him well as he gets to spend more time with his wife Jean and their grandchildren.”

In the end, Rosendale’s formal U.S. Senate campaign lasted less than a week before he abandoned the bid.

By that point, several other Republicans with varying degrees of renown had begun campaigning to replace Rosendale. He told Montana Free Press Friday that he doubted whether he would even run for re-election, but that he was encouraged by many, including former President Donald Trump and “several of the current candidates,” to do so.

Given the advantages of incumbency and Rosendale’s name recognition in the district, he would have proved a formidable opponent to any of his would-be challengers. 

But none of the other Republicans who have launched eastern district congressional campaigns backed off when Rosendale filed for re-election. In recent days, even fellow conservative stalwart Elsie Arntzen, the termed-out Superintendent of Public Instruction vying to replace Rosendale, has taken shots at him. 

Now, Rosendale says he doubts he’ll ever again seek an elected political position. 

“You don’t step into the arena that I have and take on these battles without creating a lot of very, very powerful enemies,” he told MTFP. “And unfortunately, a lot of them use whatever tools they have to impose some kind of retribution upon you. And unfortunately, that’s one of the risks of public life.”

He said, though, that he didn’t know where this vengeance was coming from. 

With Rosendale out of the race, it’s hard to identify a clear favorite in the GOP primary. In addition to Arntzen, prominent candidates include state auditor Troy Downing and former Congressman Denny Rehberg. 

Four Democrats have filed for the seat as well, though its heavy Republican lean likely means the victor of the GOP primary in June will be elected to Congress in November. 


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