Morning Digest: Democratic Sen. Jon Tester draws his most significant GOP challenger yet in Montana

[ Originally published on this site as post ]

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and David Beard.

Leading Off

MT-Sen: On Monday, Montana state Auditor Matt Rosendale kicked off his campaign against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, giving the incumbent his most prominent Republican challenger to date. Rosendale won his first term as auditor just last year, but had previously served in the legislature for six years, including a stint as state Senate majority leader. Rosendale’s announcement video promises he’ll fight for the Trump-Pence agenda, which is unsurprising rhetoric in a state Trump won by 56-35.

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Despite having the distinct accent of his native Baltimore, some Republicans hope Rosendale’s folksy image could help neutralize Tester’s brand of being an everyday Montanan. A staunch conservative, Rosendale is probably best known for filming a 2014 campaign ad where he shot down a “government drone” to bemoan big government. That race, which was for Montana’s sole House district, saw Rosendale take a close third place in the primary for what was then an open seat.

However, that 2014 race also saw Rosendale raise little money. While his self-loan of $1.3 million kept him in contention that year, a Senate race against a Democratic incumbent is a whole other ballgame. Rosendale will either need to write himself a much larger check or step up his fundraising to be a viable contender next year. Nevertheless, Rosendale can already count on one relatively influential ally in the primary: The hardline anti-tax group Club for Growth endorsed his candidacy almost immediately.

Rosendale faces state Sen. Albert Olszewski and businessman Troy Downing in the GOP primary, but neither rival raised much money in the second quarter. Meanwhile, Yellowstone County District Judge Russell Fagg has formed an exploratory committee, but previously said he won’t announce whether he’ll run until he steps down from the bench in October.