Growing number of Democrats file for Montana's eastern congressional district

Eastern Congressional District
Kevin Hamm
Steve Held
Ming Cabrera
Posted at 6:58 PM, Mar 04, 2024

HELENA — A crowded field of candidates has developed in the race for Montana’s eastern U.S. House seat.

Montana’s 2nd congressional district covers much of eastern and central Montana, including Billings, Great Falls and Helena, and it’s considered by many analysts to lean strongly toward Republicans. Most of the candidates filing so far have been Republicans, including incumbent U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale. However, a growing number of Democrats are preparing to make their case to district voters.

Two of the candidates showcased their candidacies at the Montana Democratic Party’s annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner in Helena Saturday.

Kevin Hamm
Kevin Hamm, of Helena, candidate for Montana's eastern U.S. House seat, spoke at the Montana Democratic Party's annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner, Mar. 2, 2024.

The first Democrat to announce a run for the House seat last year was Kevin Hamm of Helena, a business owner and president of Montana Pride. In 2022, he ran in the Democratic primary for Montana Public Service Commission District 5.

Hamm told MTN he believes Democrats haven’t done a good enough job in recent elections of drawing contrasts with Republicans and giving people something to vote for – rather than against.

“If you don't give them something to be excited about – somebody who's different, something who’s engaging, somebody who's willing to make those changes and willing to be that person that's just out there – you're not going to excite them,” he said. “And I'm going to do that because I am the queer guy, I am the guy that nobody expects, and I am the guy that's also been working on these issues through my other roles for the last 15 years.”

Hamm says many of the ideas he wants to advance would be considered progressive, but he believes people across the district can see the importance of issues like housing, education and livable wages – regardless of party.

“We all love the state of Montana,” he said. “So no matter what they're doing – whether they're ranching, farming, developing tech, whatever – we're going to connect with them because we know that people actually want to live here. I want to make Montana a place where everybody can enjoy it that does live here.”

Steve Held
Steve Held, of Broadus, candidate for Montana's eastern U.S. House seat, spoke at the Montana Democratic Party's annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner, Mar. 2, 2024.

Steve Held officially launched his campaign last week. He owns a ranch and operates a motel business in Broadus, and he’s also a former professional actor. His daughter, Rikki Held, is the lead plaintiff in Held v. Montana, the closely watched lawsuit in which a group of Montana youth sued the state over their handling of greenhouse gas emissions.

Held says he’s never run for office or associated himself with a party before, and both Republicans and Democrats have approached him in the past. He says he joined the Democrats because he believes the national Republican Party is out of touch with what eastern Montana needs.

“If you're in that party, you would get crushed, you would have no way to have a voice,” he said. “And I feel like with the Democrats, I can have a voice, and so far, they're letting me talk.”

Held says he sees things like the failure of the recent border negotiations as examples of where Congress is failing. He says he wants to represent the people of the district, whose voices he believes aren’t being heard.

“As a Montana Democrat, I am in the center of American politics,” he said. “That's where I am now. My views – they cross over.”

Ming Cabrera

The one filed Democratic candidate who didn’t appear at Mansfield-Metcalf was Ming Cabrera, of Billings, who is currently in the Philippines. His son MJ delivered a speech on his behalf during the event.

Cabrera, who is a Montana native and Filipino-American, told MTN he went to medical school in the Philippines and is visiting a sick classmate.

Cabrera says he’s mostly retired after a career in hospital sales and running a restaurant in the Billings Heights. He’s been involved with the Yellowstone County Democrats and ran for the Montana House in 2018.

Cabrera says growing up in Huntley Project and traveling to communities across the district for work have given him an understanding of what people are looking for from their representatives.

“I do have the experience of eastern Montana – the whole eastern Montana,” he said. “I believe that I can reach across the aisles because of the way I have been able to do things. Right now, we have such a disparity between the two parties that neither group seems to even be in the vicinity of what we need to do.”

Cabrera says the farm bill and other agricultural issues are top priorities for him, along with conservation and improving health care. He believes voters in this district still make their decision based on the person, not the party.

“Who are the good candidates out there that are going to really fight for them – that's what we need to do,” he said. “We need to fight for it that way.”

There’s still one week left for candidates to get into this and other Montana races, and MTN is hearing these won’t be the last Democrats to file in the eastern district.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify that Ming Cabrera's son spoke on his behalf during the Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner.