National Republicans may have a problem on their hands in Montana. While the NRSC is backing 37-year old veteran Tim Sheehy for Senate, Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale would start with a sizable lead if he entered the race, according to polling prepared by J.L. Partners and shared exclusively with Semafor.
The poll, which interviewed 418 Republican voters between Aug. 12 and Aug. 17, found Rosendale at 55% in a potential primary against Sheehy, who came in at 19%, while 26% of voters were undecided. Both men led Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who beat Rosendale to win his third term, by almost identical margins — 46-42 for Sheehy, 46-43 for Rosendale.
The poll also included data on the 2024 presidential race, finding Donald Trump with a strong lead (56%) in the primary. Ron DeSantis sat in second with 15%, and Vivek Ramaswamy garnered 6% support.
Shelby and David's View
The findings suggest Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., the chair of the NRSC, has some serious work to do in his backyard. Senate leaders are taking a much more active role in primaries this cycle after a series of disastrous nominees in 2022 — and Sheehy is supposed to be Exhibit A for the new approach. Daines backed him immediately after he announced his run, touting his Navy SEAL and business background, and has worked to stack up endorsements — including the state’s governor, Greg Gianforte, and at-large Congressman, Ryan Zinke — to scare others out of a run.
At the top of that list is Rosendale, who lost to Tester by 3.5 points in 2018, but has been urged by some conservative allies to run again. If he prevails, it’ll be yet another sign that leadership is losing its ability to influence — and maybe even understand — its own party’s base.
In 2020, Rosendale easily won the state’s at-large House seat and aligned himself with the House Freedom Caucus. After the state picked up a second House seat, Rosendale won the conservative 2nd District, and joined other hard-liners in withholding votes for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy until he made concessions. He’s already taking the same approach to a potential Senate run, deriding Sheehy as the preferred pick of “Mitch McConnell and the party bosses.”
While Sheehy has the backing of the NRSC, Rosendale is not without his own group of cheerleaders: This time around he’s tapped former Trump campaign aide Caroline Wren to be part of a possible campaign, and he’s been pushed to jump into the race by some of his friends in Congress.
“Matt is somebody we supported last time around,” Club for Growth president David McIntosh told reporters at a happy hour in D.C. last month, not ruling out another endorsement.“We think enormously of him. We’re proud of what he’s doing in the House.”
Rosendale is missing one key element that’s boosted similar candidates in the past, however: Donald Trump has told him he won’t have his endorsement if he runs, according to CNN.
Room for Disagreement
Sheehy has a lot of support behind him, and has been on the air since this poll was completed, potentially cutting into Rosendale’s name ID advantage. One recent Sheehy ad in the state leans into popular red meat topics, highlighting the “woke” military and suggesting there should be a ban on drag queen story hours. It may take time for his advantages to assert themselves in polling.
- Montana isn’t the only place where a second-time Senate candidate could complicate a primary. In Arizona, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Blake Masters is planning another Senate run after losing in 2022, potentially facing off against Kari Lake, who lost the governor’s race the same year.