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) TesterThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds GOP angst grows amid Trump trade war 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 CruzJim Carrey fires back at 'Joe McCarthy wanna-be' Cruz Hillicon Valley: Google delays cutting off Huawei | GOP senators split over breaking up big tech | Report finds DNC lagging behind RNC on cybersecurity GOP senators split over antitrust remedies for big tech MORE (R-Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul splits with Amash on Trump impeachment The Go-Go's rock the stage at annual 'We Write the Songs' DC concert GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending 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 TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 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.