Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale said Monday he’s running for the U.S. Senate, instantly becoming the most prominent Republican gunning for Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester next year.
Rosendale, 57, told MTN News that he believes Montanans “just don’t feel like they are getting a good job from Tester,” who should be more of an ally to President Donald Trump and the president’s agenda.
“What we can do is try to provide a regulatory and tax environment where people are incentivized to create jobs, to expand their business, and I have seen President Trump work very hard to do just that,” he said in an interview. “But what he needs is some support. I have not seen support coming out of Jon Tester.”
Tester, the state’s senior U.S. senator, is running for a third consecutive term in 2018.
Tester is seen by some as vulnerable, because he’s a Democrat from a state that Trump won handily in the 2016 presidential election.
Yet until now, Republicans haven’t fielded a candidate with much name recognition.
GOP Attorney General Tim Fox declined last month to get into the race, and former U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke was expected to take on Tester in 2018 until he became U.S. Interior secretary under Trump.
In addition to Rosendale, three lesser-known Republicans have said they’re in the race: State Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell, Big Sky businessman Troy Downing and Belgrade business owner Ron Murray.
State District Judge Russell Fagg of Billings also is considering the race. He has formed an exploratory committee to run for office and plans to resign his judicial post in October.
The Republican primary election to choose the GOP challenger to Tester isn’t until next June.
Rosendale, originally from Maryland, moved to Montana in 2002, after buying a ranch north of Glendive. He won a state House seat in 2010 representing the Glendive area and a Senate seat in 2012. Rosendale served as state Senate majority leader at the 2015 Legislature.
Rosendale also ran for the U.S. House in 2014, coming in third in a five-way primary won by Zinke. That campaign still has $217,000 in outstanding debt, from personal loans that Rosendale made to the campaign.
He won the state auditor’s post last year, defeating Democrat Jesse Laslovich by 37,000 votes. Rosendale won 54 percent of the vote to Laslovich’s 46 percent.
Rosendale said Republican primary voters should look to him to defeat Tester because of his conservative, free-market policy positions and track record as an office-holder.
“People have put me into office because they feel that I’m effective,” he said. “I’m always very inclusive, I consider all opinions, I want them to be supported by facts. And then I make a decision.”
As auditor, which regulates the insurance and investment industries in Montana, Rosendale has been an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” – and criticized Tester for supporting it.
“The Obamacare catastrophe literally lies on the shoulders of Jon Tester,” he told MTN News. “He was the 60th vote (for it) and it has been a problem for the people across our state ever since.”
Rosendale has said he supports repealing the ACA, with a two-year delayed effective date, and then figuring out a replacement that would allow different type of health coverage to be sold and set up high-risk pools for those with expensive health conditions.
He supported bills in the 2017 Legislature to give consumers more options to purchase health coverage and create “transparency” in health-care pricing, but the bills were vetoed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
When asked whether the ACA has helped the 80,000 low-income Montanans newly covered by Medicaid and the 40,000 people getting subsides to help them pay for individual, private coverage, Rosendale said: “For every person who’s received a benefit from Obamacare, there is someone who is paying an awful lot more for their care, and they’re not getting it from the person they want to deliver it.”
Rosendale also said he favors lowering federal income-tax rates for businesses and individuals, getting rid of the tax on multimillion-dollar estates, and Trump’s agenda of peeling back regulations he says impedes business development and jobs.
“I think that the work that the president has done (in this area) has been very under-reported,” he said.
On other issues, Rosendale said:
Chris Meagher, a spokesman for the Montana Democratic Party, told MTN News Monday morning that Rosendale would be "the wrong choice for Montana" and that he would be "another vote to take away health care from thousands of Montanans and another politician interfering with a woman's right to make her own health-care decisions."