Montana GOP candidate Rosendale to take on Tester in November

Montana GOP candidate Rosendale to take on Tester in November
© Greg Nash

State auditor Matt Rosendale is projected to win Montana’s GOP Senate primary, setting up the party’s top candidate in the race for a marquee match-up against incumbent Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Dems in terrible bind on Kavanaugh nomination Election Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race MORE (D).

The Associated Press called the race for Rosendale at 11:33 p.m. local time. He had been the front-runner in a race that remained largely under the radar.

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He’s won the backing of a handful of powerful national conservative groups, GOP mega-donor Richard Uihlein, and prominent conservative senators like Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems The Memo: Trump leaves chaos in his wake in UK Beto O'Rourke is dominating Ted Cruz in enthusiasm and fundraising — but he's still headed for defeat MORE (R-Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLewandowski: Trump-Putin meeting advances goal of world peace Rand Paul to travel to Russia after downplaying election meddling Implementation of a 'universal basic income' program would be a disaster MORE (R-Ky.). And he had the virtue of being the only candidate to have successfully won a statewide campaign in Montana.

But while the race lacked the fireworks of some of the more contentious GOP primaries across the country, Rosendale’s foes landed some punches that could reverberate in the general election.

Rosendale has long faced criticism for moving from Maryland in the 2000s, with former Billings Judge Russell Fagg attempting to frame him as a carpetbagger. Fagg has also blasted Rosendale for not supporting the death penalty.

Democrats have already begun to amplify the attacks Rosendale faced in the primary. American Bridge, the Democratic opposition-research outlet, is running a digital ad targeting GOP voters that points to Fagg's attacks on Rosendale's residency. 

But Republicans are also hammering Tester as a loyal Democrat in the hopes of eroding his support in the red-leaning state. Steven Law, the president of Senate Leadership Fund super PAC, blasted Tester in a statement as a "hyperpartisan obstructionist who has opposed President TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE every step of the way."

Businessman and veteran Troy Downing (R) and state Sen. Al Olszewski (R) were also running for the nomination on Tuesday.

Republicans see Montana as a top pickup opportunity, considering President Trump won the state by 20 points in 2016 and Tester has never secured more than 50 percent of the vote in either of his two previous successful Senate bids.

They also are emboldened by Trump’s furor with Tester, the ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, for his role in sinking Trump’s previous Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary nominee.

Tester’s office released a memo outlining various misconduct allegations against White House physician Ronny Jackson, whom Trump had nominated to head the VA. Jackson denied the allegations but ultimately withdrew, prompting Trump to promise revenge on Tester.

But Democrats are confident that Tester, a former head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is more than ready for the challenge and that Tester’s record on veterans’ issues is favorable ground for him.

Updated: 11:45 a.m.