Three of the potential Republican challengers to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester are near or past the $1 million mark in campaign funds this year – but their totals stand in stark contrast to Tester, who’s now raised more than $11 million in campaign cash.
Tester, a Democrat running for a third term, raised $2 million in the first three months of this year, pushing his overall total to nearly $11.3 million.
He’s also spent more than $4 million on the campaign so far, but as of March 31, he had $6.85 million in the bank.
His campaign said he has more than 7,000 donors from Montana and is seeing a “groundswell of support” from within the state.
“Outside dark-money groups are already flooding Montana with millions of dollars trying to buy this election and paint Jon Tester as someone he’s not,” said campaign manager Christie Roberts. “But these special-interest groups are no match for Jon’s grassroots support in Montana.”
But an MTN analysis of Tester’s campaign funds last fall showed that at least 81 percent of his money had come from individuals and political-action committees from outside Montana. That analysis doesn’t include any of the $3.5 million he’s raised since last October.
Tester is expected to be targeted by Republican and conservative groups, who see him as a potentially vulnerable Democrat in a state won easily by President Trump in 2016.
Four Republicans are vying for the GOP nomination to challenge Tester: Big Sky businessman Troy Downing, former state District Judge Russell Fagg of Billings, state Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell and state Auditor Matt Rosendale.
GOP voters will choose the nominee in the June 5 primary election. Absentee ballots will be mailed out May 11.
Olszewski was the first Republican in the race, but has mostly trailed in fundraising, reporting a total of $233,000 through March 31 – including about $103 million, or almost half, from his own pocket.
Downing, Fagg and Rosendale are each near the $1 million mark in fundraising so far, but have reached that level by very different routes.
Here’s a closer look at their totals and the source of their funds, through March 31:
Troy Downing: The tech entrepreneur and storage-company owner has largely self-funded his campaign, providing $1 million of his own money for his nearly $1.3 million effort. He’s raised about $285,000 from individual donors, many of whom are from outside the state.
Downing also has spent the most of any Republican candidate so far: Almost $1.2 million.
Russ Fagg: The former district judge, who entered the race last fall after forming an “exploratory committee” several months earlier, has raised a total of $932,000.
At least $625,000 of that amount has come from Montana donors, or two-thirds of the total. His campaign has pegged the percentage at 76 percent.
“The outpouring of local support shows that Republicans are excited about a conservative with Montana values,” he said in a statement late last week.
Fagg also has put $35,000 of his own money into the campaign. The campaign had $633,000 remaining in its account at the end of March.
Matt Rosendale: The rancher and real-estate developer from Glendive has raised slightly more than $1 million since starting his campaign last summer.
While Rosendale has plenty of Montana donors, he’s also been relying on national campaign networks and has individual donors from every state in the nation. Texas, Florida and California have provided big sources of money for the Rosendale campaign.
The conservative Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, which have endorsed Rosendale, have been directing donors to the campaign.
“Matt’s incredibly proud of the support and momentum he’s receiving from across the state and from prominent conservative leaders like Sens. Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz,” said his campaign manager, Kendall Cotton.
Rosendale’s campaign had $541,000 in the bank at the end of March.