First-term Congressman Matt Rosendale strolled calmly into the Bozeman TV studio minutes before his second of two statewide debates this campaign.
He introduced himself to production crew members and chatted briefly with a photojournalist, recalling how he used to snap Polaroids for his father’s newspaper back in Stevensville, Maryland.
“My favorites are shooting landscapes and wildlife, but I don’t do it nearly enough anymore,” he said with a laugh.
Over the next hour, he seemed relaxed and confident as he stuck to his campaign themes: attacking Democratic spending as wasteful, calling for increased fossil fuel production and demanding more security on the U.S. border with Mexico.
He fought off criticism of his opposition to abortion access, of his votes against U.S. support for Ukraine and his broad rejection of President Joe Biden’s economic legislation.
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If he seemed comfortable, perhaps it’s because he is in this campaign cycle. Most political analysts see him as the favorite to win re-election in a state that voted overwhelmingly two years ago for former President Donald Trump, whose endorsement Rosendale had then and has today.
This time, in his first run in the state’s newly created eastern congressional district, Rosendale faces three rivals: Democrat Penny Ronning, a former Billings City Council member; Independent Gary Buchanan, a Billings financial adviser who served Democratic and Republican governors in the ’80s and ’90s; and Libertarian Sam Rankin, a Billings attorney.
Even so, the congressman with a million-dollar war chest is running a low-key race, light on TV ads and interviews with the state press and heavy on GOP dinners, Fourth of July parades, and tours with businesses and small groups of officials.
Voters looking to see him in action are more likely to find him on social media or Fox News and Newsmax, conservative outlets he visits frequently to connect with supporters.
Jeremy Johnson, a political analyst and professor at Carroll College, said it’s a campaign strategy that seems to work for conservatives in similar districts across the country.
“There’s sort of a recognition that they do better just by talking to their base voters and social media has made it easier to connect with their core voters,” Johnson said. “The eastern Montana district is so heavily Republican that it certainly makes sense to adopt that strategy.”
Paula Witt, who heads Choteau County’s Republican Committee, says Rosendale has earned her support.
“Before this term, I had some reservations about Rosendale, but after a year in office they were gone,” she said. “Watching some of his interviews on Fox News convinced me, it came back to him being willing to stand up for what he knows is right and the values and principles he knows Montanans hold.”
Rosendale’s story since he and his wife moved to a ranch near Glendive in 2002 from Maryland is fairly well-known. His 22 years in Montana politics began with his election to the state House in 2010 and then to the state Senate, followed by his election to the State Auditor’s office in 2017. Losses in a primary race for Congress and the 2018 U.S. Senate race increased his name recognition.
After winning a seat in Congress, Rosendale wasted little time making a name for himself as a member of the House Republican minority, joining its most conservative Freedom Caucus with Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia and Arizona’s Paul Gosar.
He was one of just three House members to vote against a resolution supporting Ukraine, and he continued to oppose attempts for further financial help for the war-torn nation. He also introduced a bill prohibiting U.S. military intervention until the wall on the Mexican border is finished.
“I won’t support giving President Biden, or any other president for that matter, sweeping approval to give unlimited monetary aid without a plan to ensure it is spent appropriately,” Rosendale wrote in response to a question.
He’s a frequent “no” vote on Democrats’ legislation, especially if it involves spending. He voted against Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, the Invest in America Act (infrastructure) and the Build Back Better Act. He also voted against a resolution supporting Finland and Sweden’s addition to NATO. He opposed House legislation to ban assault weapons.
He has cast “yes” votes for bipartisan bills to help veterans suffering health effects from exposure to so-called burn pits, money for victims of state-sponsored terrorism, support for telehealth beyond COVID-19, and duty-free treatment for imported infant formula.
Other key votes included his support of Trump’s allegations of election fraud on Jan. 6, 2021, and to exclude votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania from the Electoral College vote counts. Those efforts failed.
Despite protests nationally, he supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision this summer overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal and giving states the final say on abortion.
Those stances support in terms of campaign cash, too. According to Federal Election Commission reports as of late June, Rosendale had raised just under $1.75 million since Jan. 1, 2021. That included $143,500 from committees ranging from groups representing homebuilders, auto dealers and the sugar industry to the National Rifle Association, ExxonMobil, bankers and beer wholesalers.
Of his almost $950,000 from individuals, about $557,000 came from Montanans. Donors from Florida, California and Texas contributed six-figure totals from those states.
His votes and his support attest to this confidence in the race, though he insists he’s not taking the campaign for granted.
“This (election) is like a jury trial, and we never know what the result will be,” he said. “So, anyone who thinks that they’re going to win without campaigning hard until the end is setting themselves up for defeat.”
“I had a very wise man tell me a long time ago, ‘Campaign like you’re behind or you’ll soon find out you are.’”