HELENA — Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, who represents Montana’s eastern congressional district, still hasn’t announced whether he’ll run for U.S. Senate next year – but the race to fill his seat if he does is continuing to heat up.
The latest prominent official to announce a campaign is State Auditor Troy Downing. In his launch announcement Wednesday morning, he said he wants to push back against the policies of the Biden administration and stand up for conservative Montana values.
Downing was elected auditor in 2020. In that role, he oversees the insurance and securities industries in Montana. He was eligible to run for a second four-year term in 2024 but told MTN, while he’s proud of the work he’s done in the job, he feels there are challenges that need to be tackled at the congressional level.
“I have gone to war for this country, I have served this country both on the on the national level and on the state level – and we've got bigger problems, bigger fish to fry,” he said. “I think that those problems are right now with out-of-control spending, porous borders – we need to rebuild our military, we need to make sure that we're doing everything we can to maintain that American dream.”
Downing is an Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan. Before becoming auditor, he was a businessman, leading companies in the tech, real estate and insurance industries. Formerly a resident of Gallatin County, he told MTN he now lives full-time in Helena.
Downing said earlier this year that he would consider a run for the Republican nomination in the eastern district if Rosendale decided not to seek another term in the House. However, he told MTN Wednesday that, despite Rosendale not making an explicit announcement, he now fully believes the seat will be open – and that the window is closing for candidates to put themselves forward.
“The big reason for moving now is we need to get the message out, we need to build a campaign, we need to put in the infrastructure, we need to get all the grassroots supporters together – and that takes time,” he said.
Another statewide elected official, Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, started an exploratory committee this summer, saying she was ready to run for the House if Rosendale ran for Senate. Sam Rubino, a spokesperson for her committee, said in a statement to MTN Wednesday that Arntzen’s stance hadn’t changed.
“Superintendent Arntzen believes that her word is her bond,” he said. “Matt Rosendale has been a champion for Eastern Montana, and when he makes his decision, we’ll have more to say – but until then, we will continue to spread her vision for Eastern Montana and talk about her record of working for Montana students and families.”
Arntzen, a former teacher and state legislator from Billings, is term-limited and can’t run again for superintendent in 2024.
Other Republicans have also announced interest in the eastern district seat. Three former state lawmakers – Ric Holden of Glendive and Joel Krautter and Ed Walker of Billings – have filed campaign finance paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. In addition, Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci of Great Falls told MTN he is committed to filing immediately if Rosendale announces a Senate run.
On Wednesday, Aashka Varma, a spokesperson for Rosendale, said in a statement to MTN that the congressman had not yet made a decision on whether to run again for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s seat, and that he continued to focus on serving Montanans in the House.
“Sen. Tester does not represent the people of Montana and will be replaced in 2024,” Varma went on to say. “While Rep. Rosendale continues to make his decision, he has the overwhelming support of Montanans across the state, as evident by the primary and general polling, which both show the Congressman up with significant leads. It is clear that Montanans don’t want a candidate who supports climate change, environmental social governance standards, and someone who is handpicked by Mitch McConnell and the D.C. Cartel. They want someone that will fight for them in Washington and Rep. Rosendale has demonstrated time and time again he is not bashful about fighting for them."
So far, two Democratic candidates have filed to run in the eastern district House race: Kevin Hamm, a Helena business owner and president of Montana Pride, and Ming Cabrera, a former pharmaceutical sales representative from Billings.