Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale has essentially stopped pretending that he’s undecided about seeking a rematch against Sen. Jon Tester—to the consternation of the Republican establishment, and to the delight of Democrats.
“I’m going to win the primary,” Rosendale told white nationalist Steve Bannon in a Thursday podcast appearance. “I will be the nominee for the United States Senate in Montana.”
The congressman’s team quickly said that he was speaking only hypothetically about what would happen if he “were to run,” but no one else seems to be treating an eventual launch as a mere hypothetical. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz recently tweeted, “Send @MattForMontana to the US Senate!” and is campaigning with his House colleague across the state Friday and Saturday. Bannon himself also said at the end of his interview that he “may have a very special announcement next week with Congressman Rosendale.”
The NRSC and its chief—Montana’s junior senator, Steve Daines—have long made it clear that they want wealthy businessman Tim Sheehy as their nominee instead of Rosendale, who lost his 2018 battle with Tester 50-47. Democrats, by contrast, would love to have another shot at Rosendale, a far-right lawmaker who was one of the eight House Republicans who voted to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
And powerful groups from each party are taking action to secure their preferred general election matchup. The Huffington Post’s Liz Skalka reports that a super PAC called Last Best Place has already spent $5.8 million on ads targeting Sheehy well ahead of the June 4 Republican primary. Senate Majority PAC, which is the largest super PAC that supports Democratic Senate candidates, tells Skalka that it’s the one financing this offensive.
Last Best Place has previously aired ads attacking Sheehy for not paying back a $770,000 loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. Now it’s up with a new spot hitting him for investing in Tencent, which the narrator describes as a “Chinese tech company [that] has deep ties to the Communist Party.”
The voiceover continues by saying that while Donald Trump “banned it to protect national security,” Sheehy “invested in that company to make more money for himself.” Trump himself has not taken sides in the primary, though CNN reported in July that he told Rosendale he wouldn’t be backing him.
The state Democratic Party has been meddling in the GOP primary to help Rosendale as well, though on a smaller scale. The New York Times reports that the party has run ads on Facebook ostensibly attacking the congressman as someone who “has always been an outspoken and unapologetic” opponent of abortion rights, language that’s meant to make him more appealing to Republican primary voters. By contrast, it implores the viewer, “Tell Tim Sheehy and out-of-state millionaires to stop hurting Montana.”
The GOP establishment, however, isn’t sitting back as these machinations unfold. The Times says the NRSC is launching a six-figure buy for its preferred candidate, while a conservative group called More Jobs, Less Government has already deployed close to $1.2 million on pro-Sheehy efforts.
But some of this help may be generating the wrong kind of attention: 19th News’ Grace Panetta reports that the super PAC recently sent out a poll asking respondents if they identify their gender as “Male,” “Female, Homemaker,” or “Female, Working Woman.”
Rosendale, for his part, may have given his skeptics another reason to question his strength in a general election by choosing to campaign with Gaetz. The House Ethics Committee is currently investigating the congressman, and CNN reported this week that it “has reached out to the woman whom the congressman allegedly had sexual relations with when she was a 17-year-old minor.” The U.S. Department of Justice ended its own investigation into this matter last year without charging Gaetz, who has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence.
Rosendale also demonstrated several vulnerabilities in 2018 that Tester would no doubt be happy to again exploit should he get the chance. The senator used every chance he got to remind voters that his Republican opponent was a Maryland native who’d only relocated 16 years prior and still sported a Baltimore accent.
And while Rosendale described himself as a “rancher,” Talking Points Memo reported during his first Senate bid that he didn’t own any cattle or actually ranch his property. Tester, who is a third-generation farmer who still works his land, blasted Rosendale as a phony, while a Democratic group dubbed the Republican “all hat, no cattle.”
But even though Democrats are acting like Sheehy, who is a Navy SEAL veteran, would be the stronger option for the GOP, he has plenty of his own shortcomings—including the fact that he moved to the state from Minnesota even more recently than Rosendale transplanted himself from the East Coast.
And as Politico reminded us Friday, he may have even reminded the public about one of those weaknesses in a truly strange way. The publication notes that a $3,300 donation was made in June to South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s now-suspended presidential campaign from a “Timothy Sheehy” who listed the Senate candidate’s address.
Insider’s Bryan Metzger, who noticed the contribution the following month, pointed out that the donation was made well after Sheehy announced he was endorsing Donald Trump. “The occupation is ‘Plane Crasher,'” tweeted Metzger, “so it would seem to be fake.”
However, Politico notes there are several unexplained details about the donation. To begin with, the “Plane Crasher” contribution was made days before the Daily Beast reported that Sheehy was piloting a small plane in 2019 when it crashed into a Florida home and injured a 17-year-old on the ground named Carmelle Ngalamulume. (Click the link for some astonishing photos.)
Federal authorities blamed the flight instructor, who died in the accident, but Ngalamulume’s family has sued Sheehy for “carelessly and negligently flying, inspecting, maintaining and/or operating” the aircraft.
That’s not all that’s strange about this contribution. Scott’s campaign went on to amend its report—but not to refund the donation. Rather, it changed the donor’s occupation to reflect Sheehy’s, well, other day job as the owner of a ranch called the Little Belt Cattle Co. Politico additionally notes that other donations in Sheehy’s name to different candidates (including one to Trump) also listed “plane crasher” as his job.
The outlet contacted Sheehy’s campaign two weeks ago, and a spokesperson pledged to ask the candidate for information. Rather than come back with an answer, though, Politico says the spokesperson has “stopped responding to several calls, texts and emails since then.”
The NRSC, however, never seemed concerned about having a “plane crasher” as its nominee. An unnamed person close to the committee told the Daily Beast last June, “This lawsuit does not raise any concerns whatsoever with regard to the NRSC’s support for Tim Sheehy.”