We’ve talked plenty here about the ongoing infighting in the Montana Republican Party, and the U.S. House primary is just the most recent in a seemingly endless list highly public feuds and political rivalries. We’ve seen the candidates attacking each other (or using their PACs to attack each other), and we’ve seen past opponents endorse candidates running against their former rivals. With less than a month to go before the June primary, the GOP race is getting even more heated.
Just this past week, a super PAC called Big Sky Freedom Fund began supporting Corey Stapleton’s candidacy. It formed very recently, and appears to be exclusively supporting Stapleton. The Billings Gazette reports that the group has spent $74,000 on television advocating for Stapleton’s campaign. The PAC lists the address of 47 North Communications, a company run by former Rehberg staffers. This raises the obvious question: Is Rehberg backing Stapleton’s campaign, and are his former staff doing his bidding by trying to influence the race for his old seat?
In addition to this, Stapleton has been endorsed by former governor Judy Martz. We’re not so sure that’s an endorsement anyone was in a hurry to receive, but apparently some Republicans think that her opinion may carry some weight. And on the subject of questionable endorsements, earlier in the year, Rick Hill publicly endorsed Elsie Arntzen in the race for the seat he once held.
Now this week, a lot of folks are speculating that Congressman Daines is backing Matt Rosendale. The two attended a high profile event together in Billings, seeming to signal that Rosendale is Daines’ guy.
The two Republicans were spotted greeting Veterans together as they returned from the last Montana Honor Flight for WWII Veterans. A tipster also informs us that their respective staff were working had-in-hand and coordinating during the event, and Rosendale was spotted being very friendly with a group of Daines staffers.
Rosendale seen talking with Alee Lockman Daines’ communications director, and Jessica Flint, Daines’ Billings representative.
Daines and Rosendale attend Honor Flight event together.
Until now, Daines has been noticeably absent from the list of prominent Montana Republicans making public endorsements in this primary, but it seems as if Rosendale is his pick.
This may be the boost Rosendale’s campaign needed, but it does seem strange for Daines to get involved in a heated primary. Readers will remember that Senator Tester stayed miles away from the Democratic House primary of 2012. Then again, Daines and his advisors could be privy to private polling that tells a very different story than the perceived dead heat that many think this race is. And perhaps Daines is backing Rosendale since they have both been endorsed by the far-right TEA Party Express?
Really, the only major candidate in this race who doesn’t have the backing of a major figure in Montana Republican politics is Ryan Zinke. Sure, Conrad Burns gave him a less than enthusiastic endorsement, but he is checked out of Montana politics has nothing to lose by endorsing a toxic candidate at this point. Plus, the endorsement came as little surprise, since Burns at one point served on the board of Zinke’s Super PAC, the same one that is now supporting his congressional campaign while under scrutiny from the FEC.
Once a lot of people speculated that Zinke could be a frontrunner in this race, but now you won’t find many willing to argue that point. Not only have arguably the three biggest figures in Republican politics indicated in one way or another that they are backing one of Zinke’s opponents, but a number of these prominent Republicans are continuing to openly attack Zinke.
Just today, the Missoula Independent reported on major Republicans openly backing “anyone but Zinke” for the nomination.
The Independent wrote that, “… three former state GOP chairmen made the unprecedented move of issuing a joint press statement highlighting why they feel Zinke’s views “are not right for Montana.” The reasons ranged from perceptions of flip-flopping to Zinke’s close ties to the very super PAC spending heavy on his behalf.
“It was an accumulation of stuff,” says former state Sen. Ken Miller, who authored the statement alongside former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill and current state Sen. John Brenden. “Had there been just one issue, I wouldn’t have gone to this measure. But it’s an accumulation of issues and statements that piled up … Finally I said, ‘I’ve got to let people know what I know.’”
With the major players in the GOP all placing their bets on different candidates, the only thing that’s certain is that anything could happen come June.