Arntzen, Downing exploring congressional runs if Rosendale tries for Senate

By: - August 14, 2023 4:11 pm

Elsie Arntzen, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, walks into Parental Rights Education Action meeting at Crosspoint Church in Missoula, Montana on November 1, 2021. (Tommy Martino for The Daily Montanan.)

Two of Montana’s top statewide elected Republicans said Monday they would explore running for the state’s 2nd Congressional District seat should current Rep. Matt Rosendale decide to run in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate race, as has long been rumored.

Elsie Arntzen, the superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction, filed a candidacy statement with the Federal Election Commission Monday and announced the launch of an exploratory committee to determine if she would run for the eastern Montana seat.

Sam Rubino, a spokesperson for the committee, praised Rosendale in a statement and said Arntzen would build upon his efforts should Rosendale decide to run for Senate and not for re-election to the House of Representatives.

“We have been fortunate to have rock-solid conservative representation in Rep. Rosendale; Arntzen is committed to building upon that legacy should Rosendale toss his hat in the ring for U.S. Senate,” Rubino said. “Should Rosendale seek re-election to the House, the Arntzen exploratory committee will cease operations, return each and every nickel donated to the committee, and will fully back the Rosendale re-election bid.”

Arntzen is termed out after 2024, and the Lee Newspapers State News Bureau and Montana Free Press have both reported that she was considering running for Rosendale’s seat.

Arntzen is a former member of the state House and Senate. She defeated Democrat Melissa Romano in the OPI superintendent elections in 2016 and 2020 – by about 3.3% in 2016 and by 8.5% in 2020.

She also ran for Montana’s lone congressional seat at the time in 2014, coming in fourth place in the Republican primary behind winner Ryan Zinke, runner-up Corey Stapleton, and Matt Rosendale, who came in third in the primary.

Troy Downing, Montana Auditor (From Montana Auditor website)

State Auditor and Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Troy Downing also announced Monday he would consider running for the seat if Rosendale chooses to run for Senate.

“I’m focused on doing the job the great people of Montana elected me to do,” he said. “If Congressman Rosendale decides to pursue the U.S. Senate seat, I will discuss with my family and prayerfully consider running for the Second Congressional District.”

Downing similarly praised Rosendale, who has not filed to run for Senate or discussed the matter publicly so far.

“Matt Rosendale is a conservative champion. He has brought Montana values to Washington, D.C. and never flinched in our mission to drain the swamp and hold the Biden Administration to account,” Downing said in a statement posted to his social media accounts.

Downing won his last statewide race in 2020, defeating Democrat Shane Morigeau by nearly 16 percentage points. He came in third in the Republican primary for the seat held by Sen. Jon Tester in 2018, receiving 19% of the votes, compared to 34% for Rosendale and 28% for Russell Fagg.

All the maneuvering is due mostly to the questions that continue to swirl about if Rosendale will run for Senate again to try to face Tester again in the general election six years after he lost to the lone statewide elected Democrat.

Republican Tim Sheehy, who owns an aerial firefighting company with federal contracts, has been running advertisements online and over the air for nearly two months and is backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and its current chairman, Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines. Sheehy has also received statements of support from Gov. Greg Gianforte, Zinke, and several others in Republican Senate leadership, indicating there is a swath of high-ranking Republicans backing him and perhaps trying keep Rosendale out of the race.

But Rosendale, a vocal member of the House Freedom Caucus who helped launch the Montana Freedom Caucus earlier this year, has attended several events in recent weeks in Bozeman and western Montana, outside of his current district, and Politico reported last week he had hired a fundraiser – another step toward running in what is likely to be the most expensive race in state history and a key seat as Republicans and Democrats fight for power in the Senate.

Politico reported several right-wing political committees and U.S. lawmakers are lining up to support Rosendale, including former Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican and former president of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, who said of Rosendale: “He’s running.”

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Blair Miller
Blair Miller

Blair Miller is a reporter based in Helena who primarily covers government, climate and courts. He's been a journalist for more than 12 years, previously based in Denver, Albuquerque and mid-Missouri.