Candidates running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives have officially filed their requisite paperwork as of 5 p.m. Monday, bringing the tally of active candidates up to nine Republicans, six Democrats, four Libertarians and one Independent.
The contenders are almost equally divided between Montana’s two congressional districts. Incumbent Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale, from Glendive, is running in the eastern district, which includes Lewis and Clark, Park and Yellowstone counties. He faces challenges from Republicans Kyle Austin, James Boyette and Charles A. Walking Child. The eastern district’s Democratic candidates are Penny Ronning, Mark Sweeney and Skylar Williams. Gary Buchanan is the sole Independent candidate in the eastern district. The Libertarian candidates are Sam Rankin, Roger Roots and Samuel Thomas.
The state’s western district, which includes Flathead, Missoula and Gallatin counties, is expected to be more competitive between the eventual Republican and Democratic contenders. The candidates include several previous public officeholders and former Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke. Other Republicans in the race are Mitch Heuer, Matt Jette, Al Olszewski and Mary Todd. The Democratic competitors are Cora Neumann, Monica Tranel and Tom Winter. John Lamb is running as a Libertarian.
The Cook Political Report has labeled both of Montana’s seats as “Likely Republican” in their forecast as of March 9, a rating that could be updated through election season.
While Monday marked the final day for candidates to file their paperwork, several campaigns have been ramping up operations for months, and top fundraisers and spenders have already emerged. Zinke, who served as Secretary of the Interior under former President Donald Trump and resigned in 2018, reported a fundraising total of more than $1.3 million as of January, followed by Rosendale with just over $1 million. Bozeman public health advocate Cora Neumann is leading the pack among Democrats with more than $770,000. Tranel, a Missoula-based attorney, is second in her party for fundraising with more than $420,000.
Ronning, Olszewski, Todd, Williams and Winter are the only other current candidates who have reported fundraising and spending numbers to the Federal Elections Commission higher than zero. Ronning is a current Billings City Council member; Olszewski is an orthopedic surgeon and former state senator; Todd is a pastor in Kalispell; Williams is a Billings resident who has studied carpentry; Winter is a former state representative who has worked in the home health industry.
The U.S. House race is the first time in decades that Montana candidates are competing for two seats in Congress. U.S. representatives serve two-year terms. The state’s independent redistricting committee completed the lengthy process of drawing new boundaries for each seat in November after the 2020 census showed the state’s population had grown enough to justify a second seat. The committee’s nonpartisan chair Maylinn Smith voted with Republicans to select the final map, a product Democrats criticized for not creating an adequately competitive western district.
The U.S. House races are far from the only contests that will be on voters’ ballots this year; campaigns are also underway for the state’s Public Service Commission, two seats on the Montana Supreme Court and several judgeships at the district court level.
The primary election is scheduled for June 7 and the general election for Nov. 8.
In a Wednesday appearance billed as the first in a series of events announcing policy priorities for next year’s legislative session, Gov. Greg Gianforte said he wants to raise the exemption threshold for Montana’s business equipment tax.
This fall, 20 school districts across the state are exploring a new approach to standardized testing. The Office of Public Instruction-led pilot, backed by $3 million in federal funding, seeks to replace Montana’s year-end exams with incremental tests throughout the school year.
Despite Montana’s unemployment rate of 2.8% as of August and an above-average labor force participation, Montana’s workforce can’t keep up with the sheer number of unfilled jobs. In Missoula, that means a battle to attract employees.