Montana state Auditor Matt Rosendale (R) has won his crowded four-way primary to face Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in what could be a hotly contested race this fall.
Rosendale led the field with 34 percent of the vote to 29 percent for former judge Russell Fagg (R), with two other candidates hovering below 20 percent as of 1:38 a.m. EST. The Associated Press called the race.
Rosendale’s tight win comes in spite of a major edge in outside support in the race. He and Fagg both spent less than $1 million on the race, according to the latest candidate disclosures, but the big-spending conservative group Club for Growth dropped almost $2 million to help boost Rosendale. He also had endorsements from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY).
Tester has never topped 50 percent of the vote in the GOP-leaning state, which President Trump carried by 20 percentage points in 2016. And he has done little to ingratiate himself with Trump voters, picking fights with the White House more often than most other red-state Democrats — moves that Republicans think have made him newly vulnerable.
“Not only is Matt Rosendale a staunch fiscal conservative, he is a proven winner who stands an excellent chance of defeating liberal Sen. Jon Tester in the fall. It’s time for Sen. Tester to be held accountable for his tax-and-spend record, and Matt Rosendale is the man for the job,”Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a statement.
But Democrats say (and some Republicans admit) that Tester starts off as the favorite given his strong fundraising and folksy brand. Democrats also believe they can tar Rosendale, who spent most of his life in Maryland as a real estate developer before moving to Montana more than 15 years ago, as a carpetbagger.
“The choice for Montanans this November couldn’t be more clear. Jon Tester is a third generation Montanan who still farms the land homesteaded by his grandparents,” Tester’s campaign said in a statement. “Matt Rosendale is an East Coast developer who looks out for himself. Maryland Matt uses Montana to boost the outside special interests that are funding his Senate campaign.”