"I am the best positioned person to take on Jon Tester," says Rosendale, "because the people of Montana don’t feel that they have been served properly and I’m the person who can do so."
Rosendale was elected state auditor back in November. In 2014, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House losing in the Republican primary to Ryan Zinke who is now the Interior Secretary.
Rosendale served in both the Montana House and Senate. His family owns a Glendive-area ranch. Rosendale says he’s heard from many Montanans who are unsatisfied with how Democrat Jon Tester represents them in Congress.
"They feel like he comes home and tries to act like a farmer and yet he goes back to Washington and votes just like Chuck Schumer," says Rosendale.
That doesn’t wash with Montana Democratic Party spokesman Chris Meagher who points out that President Trump has signed three bills that Tester supported.
"Two bills to help veterans and one government accountability bill. Jon goes to Washington and works across party lines to protect what matters most back here in Montana," says Meagher. "That’s standing up for veterans, defending our right to bear arms and protecting access to public lands. He’s proud of that record."
Meagher characterizes Rosendale as an insurance commissioner who’s failed at his job because he’s done nothing to reduce health care costs. He adds the pro-life Republican would interfere with women’s health care decisions and accuses him of supporting dark money campaign contributions.
But University of Montana political science professor Rob Saldin isn’t so quick to write off Rosendale’s candidacy. He compares Matt Rosendale to Jon Tester back in 2005 when he successfully challenged Republican incumbent Conrad Burns. "And I think you’d have to say Matt Rosendale is a little bit better positioned than Tester was back then," says Saldin.
"Both of them had been leaders in the Legislature, but Rosendale has now been elected statewide, he’s run two statewide campaigns and so he has probably a stronger network built up in Republican circles than Tester did back then."
Then there’s the issue of Montana street cred. Rosendale was born in Baltimore and moved to Montana 16 years ago. Jon Tester was born in Havre and now farms in Big Sandy. Rosendale says residency is a non-issue.
"The people of Montana continue to put me back in office," Rosendale says. "They’ve elected me to the Legislature, my colleagues in the Legislature have elected me as the majority leader. The people of this state have elected me to be the insurance commissioner. I only know of one person that was able to pick where they were going to be born and that was 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem."
Residency played a big role in Montana’s recent U.S. House race that pitted Greg Gianforte, who was born in San Diego and raised in Pennsylvania, against Rob Quist who was born and raised in Cut Bank, Montana.
Republican Gianforte eventually won that race, but Democrats got a lot of mileage out of portraying him as a carpetbagger. UM political scientist Rob Saldin questions if that label will stick as easily to Rosendale.
"Of course, when he [Rosendale] ran for Congress several years ago he had that very memorable ad where he was shooting down a government drone or something like this. He kind of, I think, embodies the Montana ethos for better or worse a little bit more than Gianforte and is a little bit tougher to paint as a carpetbagger," says Saldin.
That said, Saldin concedes Jon Tester – more than any other politician in the state – exudes what he calls 'a Montananess'.
Other Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination to run against Tester, including State Senator Albert Olszewski and Big Sky businessman Troy Downing. Billings judge Russell Fagg is also considering his own Senate run.