This is the second installment of a three-part series on the candidates in Montana’s U.S. Senate race.
HELENA – Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale says he got into politics to rein in government spending and protect people’s property and gun rights – and that he’s done that.
“It always boils down to the size and scope of government,” he told MTN News in a recent interview.
Now, as a challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, he’s also taken on another role: ally of President Trump, embracing the president’s agenda and eager to help him carry it out.
“I think that the entire agenda that the president has put forward is all very important,” Rosendale says. “It’s basically to expand our economy, it’s to reduce regulations and the burdens on our businesses and families, and it’s also to make sure that we preserve our national security.”
“We need to remember that if we’re going to continue to advance the president’s agenda, he does need help.”
Like many Republicans challenging Senate Democrats in states won by the president in 2016, Rosendale has made the race all about allegiance to the president Trump, calling Tester an “obstructionist” of Trump policies.
And the president has returned the favor, visiting Montana twice since July for campaign rallies supporting Rosendale and bashing Tester, a two-term Democrat up for re-election.
“It’s time to retire liberal Democrat Jon Tester,” Trump said at a July 5 rally in Great Falls.
Whether this approach is working remains to be seen. Most polls in recent weeks have shown Tester with a slender lead – but Tester says he always expected the contest to be close, just like his previous two victories.
Tester will easily outspend Rosendale when it comes to their own campaign funds. But, so far, outside groups have spent more than $11 million to assist Rosendale.
Rosendale, 58, the state auditor and insurance commissioner, moved from Maryland to Montana just 16 years ago, buying a ranch not far from the Montana-North Dakota border, along the Yellowstone River north of Glendive. But he’s carved out a pretty good political resume in that short time.
Rosendale spent six years in the Legislature, from 2011-2016, and was Senate majority leader for his final two years. He also ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House in 2014, losing in the Republican primary, and then won the statewide post of auditor and insurance commissioner in 2016.
Rosendale was a real estate broker and developer in Maryland and has continued that work in Montana, putting together a housing subdivision just north of Great Falls called Eagle’s Crossing. He also has operated his 9,000-acre ranch and farm in Montana, but says portions of it are leased to neighbors right now.
In the Legislature, Rosendale allied himself with the conservative wing of the Republican Party. He often voted against major initiatives that passed with the support of Democrats and moderate Republicans, like Medicaid expansion and campaign-finance reform.
As insurance commissioner, he’s been an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” – and called for its repeal, saying health insurers should be free to offer more flexible policies that people can afford.
“I think the best thing we can do is continue to offer all these options,” he told MTN News. “And folks are finding now that they can accommodate their health-care needs at a fraction of the cost of what they were told they had to purchase.”
But in the U.S. Senate race, he’s concentrated mostly on embracing President Trump and casting Tester as someone who’s just trying to slow the Trump train.
He says Tester isn’t supporting Trump efforts to secure U.S. borders, is opposing Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, opposed the 2017 Republican tax-cut bill and opposed repealing “Obamacare.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being a counterbalance; I really enjoy dialog myself,” Rosendale told MTN. “But there is a difference between being a person who is just going to be a counterbalance and someone who’s being an obstructionist.”
-Mike Dennison reporting for MTN News