HELENA — Montana Republicans’ 2020 election lineup shuffled again Monday after U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte decided to run for governor instead of re-election, with State Auditor Matt Rosendale jumping into the now-open House race seven months after failing to unseat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Rosendale, 58, said in a statement that he has worked to lower health care and drug costs, protect access to public lands and bring fiscal discipline to his office, where he is also Montana’s insurance commissioner.
“I’m running for the U.S. House to serve and work for the people of Montana,” Rosendale said. “I pledge to always listen, represent our values and protect our Montana way of life.”
It is Rosendale’s second try for Montana’s only U.S. House seat, after he finished third in the five-candidate Republican primary in 2014. His entry sets up a rematch between him and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, who came in behind Ryan Zinke in that 2014 race.
Gianforte announced Friday that he would make his second bid for governor after losing to incumbent Democrat Steve Bullock in 2016. The announcement set off a scramble for the open House seat.
Stapleton said Saturday that he was switching from the governor’s race to the House race, and former District Judge Russ Fagg said he also is considering a run.
Fagg lost to Rosendale in the U.S. Senate primary a year ago. He told The Associated Press that he hasn’t yet decided whether to run for the House in this election or wait to see if Montana picks up another congressional seat after the 2020 census but that Stapleton’s and Rosendale’s presence in the race won’t influence his decision.
Fagg said Republicans need a winner who can hold on to the House seat after Rosendale lost to Tester, a Democrat, despite President Donald Trump traveling to Montana four times to support his Senate bid last year.
“Matt had every advantage and couldn’t pull it off,” Fagg said.
The conservative political action committee that spent nearly $5 million supporting Rosendale’s failed Senate bid, Club for Growth, released a statement that said it would back him again.
Rosendale and Stapleton are each in their first terms of office, meaning their decision to run for House also leaves their current offices open in next year’s election. That gives Democratic candidates an opportunity to win three of the six statewide offices now held by Republicans, while the GOP is seeking to pick up the open governor’s seat for the first time since 2005. Bullock is leaving because of term limits.
Former state Rep. Kathleen Williams, who lost to Gianforte in November’s U.S. House election, is seeking the Democratic nomination again. She will face first-term state Rep. Tom Winter in the Democratic primary.
Gianforte is up against four others in the GOP governor’s race, including Attorney General Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski. State Rep. Casey Schreiner and former legislator Reilly Neill are the Democrats running for governor so far, while Bullock is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.