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) TesterTrump Jr. campaign event looks for new venue after Montana restaurant declines to host CBS Poll: Missouri, Montana Senate races in dead heats Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski 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 CruzPoll: Cruz leads O'Rourke by 3 in Texas Senate race Julián and Joaquin Castro to campaign with O'Rourke in Texas The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump rips 'ridiculous' spending bill | FBI dragged into new fight | Latest on Maryland shooting MORE (R-Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report 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 TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada 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.